Supreme Court issues decision on employee rest periods

The California Supreme Court on Dec. 22 issued an important decision in a case (Augustus v. ABM) involving the security guard industry. Two issues were in question: Must an employee be relieved of all duty for a paid 10-minute rest period and, if an employee is “on call” during a rest period, does it count as a lawful break? 

The answer is yes and no. In its simplest form, the ruling stated that “… state law prohibits on-duty and on-call rest periods. During required rest periods, employers must relieve their employees of all duties and relinquish any control over how employees spend their break time.” What this means for employers of dental practices is that meal and rest break policies must be reviewed and updated to be in compliance with this decision.

Similar to meal periods, employees must now be relieved of all duties for the two 10-minute paid breaks to be lawful. Employees should not be allowed to take rest breaks at their desks or in work areas where the employee could potentially be interrupted and employers are no longer able to have policies that restrict employees from leaving the premises during rest periods.  

Employees are entitled to one rest break for workdays 3.5 – 6 hours in length and two rest breaks for workdays that are 6 – 8 hours in length. No rest breaks are required for a workday that ends prior to 3.5 hours. Current meal and rest break penalties still apply. Employees who are not provided an uninterrupted rest break or are not able to take meal breaks are entitled to an additional one hour of pay for each incident (up to two in a single day). The additional time should be provided to the employee on the next regularly scheduled payroll date.

Five things to consider when reviewing employee rest break policies

Employers should ensure the rest break policy does not restrict or require an employee to stay on the premises or remain available to answer business operations questions, patient questions or calls. However, if an employee leaves the premises and returns late, disciplinary action can still apply.

The policy should state that the employee should not remain in the work area or take a break in an area where interruptions could potentially occur. In many instances of smaller practices, this could pose a challenge. Ideally, a best practice is to incorporate rest breaks for all employees into the practice schedule each day and discuss during the morning huddle “coverage” among team members.

Management staff and other employees should be trained to refrain from interrupting an employee while he or she is on break. Of course, as interruptions can occur from time to time, the court noted that breaks can be rescheduled, or an employer can pay the penalty. However, this should be the exception, not the rule.

Policies should also state that employees should report to their supervisors the inability to take an interrupted break or when unable to take a break at all.

Rest period policies should include that breaks are free from duty and that scheduled breaks must be taken by each non-exempt employee.

CDA Practice Support has updated its Sample Meal and Rest Break Policy to reflect the new changes. It is available at cda.org/practicesupport.

Employers should incorporate the changes into their practice employee manuals, provide the updated policy to their employees and discuss the changes and expectations. Additionally, they should obtain a signature from each employee acknowledging that they have read and understand the new policy moving forward.

Related Items

The Internal Revenue Service moved the annual deadline for filing copies of employees’ Form W-2, W-3 and certain forms reporting nonemployee payments to independent contractors with the Social Security Administration. The new deadline of Jan. 31 was established to make it easier for the IRS to legitimize tax returns and spot errors in order to reduce fraud and improper payments.

Dental practices that are required to comply with Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act must complete and submit to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services the Assurance of Compliance form. HHS 690 can be downloaded, completed and mailed or completed and submitted online.

Many California employees will begin earning a new minimum wage on Jan. 1, 2017, per legislation signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in April. Under the new state law, dental practice owners with 26 or more employees must begin paying a minimum wage of $10.50. Practice owners with 25 or fewer employees have an additional year to comply with the law.