Supperior Court Issues a $90 Million Cautionary Tale Against Playing Too Close to "The Cliff" With Meal and Rest Break Policies -- Augustus v. American Commercial Security
At this point employers should not need any further "wake up" call to get their meal and rest policies in compliance with California law. But if anyone is still unconvinced of the potential exposure the granting of a summary judgment in the amount of $89,741,426 in Augustus v. American Commercial Security should be persuasive.
As the ruling in Brinker made clear, the essence of a compliant meal or rest break is that the employer has affirmatively relieved the employee of all work duties within the prescribed time windows and for prescribed durations. Once the employer has discharged this obligation it has "provided" a break and it doesn't have the further obligation to force the employee to actually go off duty or stay off duty for the entire break period.
But woe unto the employer whose policies fall short of actually "providing" a compliant break in the first place. In that case the employer forfeits any argument that any missed break was the result of the employee voluntary decision to waive it. (Since an employee can't waive something he never received.)
That is exactly what happened in the Augustus case. The defendant was a security guard company which required its guard to remain "on-call" during breaks. Judge Wiley's order granting summary judgment explains how this one policy error ended up costing the company nearly $90 million:
In general, ACSS balks at the notion that the employer must relieve workers of all duties for the rest break to be legally valid. Put simply, if you are on call, you are not on break. . . . [¶] . . .Substantively, California's labor law gave advance notice of the penalties for depriving workers of rest breaks. Those penalties are straightforward and chastening. When the view is clear and the exposure chastening , the rational hiker steers clear of the cliff. ACSS broke the law and must pay according to that law.