California passes new rest period law for unionized safety-sensitive employees at petroleum facilities

California law requires hourly employees to be completely relieved of all duties while on rest breaks. Our firm’s prior article regarding Augustus v. ABM discusses this concept. 

On September 20, 2018, Governor Jerry Brown signed a narrow exception to these rest break requirements into law (AB 2605), but only for unionized employees at petroleum facilities whose duties include responding to emergencies—considered “safety-sensitive” employees. This law took effect immediately. However, the law comes with a sunset provision and is set to expire on January 1, 2021.

Under the new law, which amends Labor Code section 226.75, applicable employers may lawfully require these specific employees to be on-call during a rest period.

But if the employees are interrupted during their rest periods to respond to an emergency, they are permitted to re-take that rest period at the next available time. If circumstances do not allow them to take the rest period at all, they are then entitled to an additional hour of pay for each rest period they are unable to take. Thus, unionized safety-sensitive employees at petroleum facilities can be required to take on-call breaks, but, when they miss a break, they are entitled to an hour of pay for each rest period they are unable to take.

This new law seeks to strike a balance between employers’ interests in addressing emergencies and ensuring that safety-sensitive employees may generally access duty-free rest periods, while compensating these employees for any rest period they are unable to take.

Whether employers ultimately pay employees these premiums will largely depend on the reliability of the systems that document when employees cannot re-take interrupted rest breaks. As such, affected Unions should demand to bargain over the implementation of this new law to ensure there is a reliable record-keeping system in place and that employees are properly compensated when they miss a break.

Further, properly documenting instances in which emergencies interrupt rest breaks may allow a better evaluation of whether this is a law that should be renewed later, or expanded in the future to apply to other types of employees covered by collective bargaining agreements.

Please contact your labor law counsel with any questions.

By David Fujimoto | October 25, 2018

Legal Developments