Attorney Jean-Claude Lapuyade

Can employers keep workers on site during break?

While it is important for your employer to grant you a period of rest as required by California law, your rights go further than simply stopping your work related activities. A rest period grants you leeway to depart the workplace if you desire. If an employer tries to interfere with your rights, it may constitute a violation of state law.

Many workers are content to stay on site during a break. However, according to the California Department of Industrial Relations, if you wish to depart the workplace during your rest period, your employer cannot stop you from doing so.

Rest periods and your freedom

California law makes it clear that employers cannot dictate your activities during a rest and meal break. For example, the law does not allow an employer to make you use your rest period to use the bathroom. You have the right to use the bathroom during your regular work schedule without having to use up your rest minutes for a restroom break.

The question of whether an employer can keep a worker on site during a break recently received clarification from the California Supreme Court. In the 2016 case Augustus v. ABM Security Services, Inc., the obligation of an employer to relieve workers of their work duties also means that an employer has to give up control over how workers spend their time. A worker may spend a rest period at the site or elsewhere if desired.

Time considerations for rest periods

Since California law permits ten minute time periods, you must use the time carefully. An employer may not penalize you for leaving work during a break, but you could incur a penalty if you leave the workplace for longer than your break period lasts. You may need to restrict your travels to locations that are close by, or you might have to use your 30 minute lunch break for activities that require more than ten minutes.