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California Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Appeal on Whether ABM Workers Still Performing Work While Remaining “On Call” During Breaks

Although lawmakers try to write laws to be as clear as possible, there is always room for interpretation. One court may view a law one way, while another court will come to a different conclusion based on the same law. It’s because of this that people so often appeal decisions that did not go in their favor. Rulings sometimes flip back and forth between the two parties as they work their way up the court system.

Recently, the California Supreme Court has agreed to review an appellate decision in a wage and hour class action lawsuit. The class action was filed against ABM Security Services, Inc. for allegedly denying security workers the proper rest breaks under California labor law.

California law requires employers to provide all their hourly workers with regular meal and rest breaks throughout the day. For every four hours worked, an employee is entitled to one paid uninterrupted rest break lasting at least ten minutes. For every five hours worked, an employee is entitled to one unpaid uninterrupted meal break of at least half an hour. For every day an employee does not take one of these breaks, or the break is interrupted, she is entitled to one hour’s worth of pay, in addition to all wages earned that day.

According to the lawsuit against ABM, the company allegedly permitted security guards to take their breaks, but required them to stay “on call” by keeping radios and pagers on and responding to any needs or emergencies that might arise. ABM denies these claims.

The representatives for the class of about 15,000 current and former ABM security guards reasoned that these did not constitute true breaks. Because guards were required to remain vigilant and their breaks were sometimes interrupted, they deserve an additional hour’s worth of pay for each break that was not taken.

ABM argued the law required them to pay employees only for the time spent actually performing work, and that being “on call” did not constitute performing work.

The trial court agreed with the plaintiffs that, in order to constitute a break, employees must be relieved of all duties. Since the security guards were not fully relieved of their responsibilities, the trial court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and granted an award of $94 million in statutory damages, interest, penalties, and attorneys’ fees and costs.

ABM appealed the decision and the case went before California’s 2nd District Court of Appeals. The appellate court agreed with ABM that being on call is not the same as performing work, so it reversed the ruling of the lower court. The class of plaintiffs appealed that decision and the California Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case. Whatever that court decides will likely be final, unless the United States Supreme Court agrees to take the case.

This lawsuit is the first in which a court has determined security guards should be paid for their break time. In a business that routinely requires guards to remain on call during breaks, the final decision in this case could mean major changes for security companies all over the country.The Chicago overtime lawyers at the Chicago Overtime Law Center are investigating unpaid overtime claims against large retail chains such as Petsmart, Officemax, Staples, Smart & Final, Apple, Walgreen’s, CVS, Urban Outfitters, GAP, Abercrombie & Fitch, Limited, Forever 21, Macy’s, Target, JC Penney’s, Lowes, Marshalls, TJ Max, Victoria’s Secret, Nieman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Best Buy, Home Depot, Apple, Best Buy, Sears, K Mart, J.C Penney, Walmart, Costco, PetSmart, REI and other retail chains for misclassifying employees as managers, erasing or altering time sheets or time records, pressuring workers not to report or record overtime, failing to pay for time spent on security checks, and otherwise failing to pay workers for overtime and other wages. If you are the victim this practice call us at one of our offices near Elk Grove Village and Skokie at (312) 869-4095 or contact us online.