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By: Matthew Jones
Over the years there has been uncertainty regarding California Labor Code’s regulations regarding a day of rest. The applicable Labor Code sections are 552, which prohibits an employer from “caus[ing] [its] employees to work more than six days in seven”, and 556, which states that section 552 does not apply “when the total hours of employment do not exceed 30 hours in any week or six hours in any one day thereof.”
In the case of Mendoza v. Nordstrom, Inc., the Ninth Circuit asked the California Supreme Court to resolve three outstanding issues regarding the interpretation of those two Labor Code sections. Mr. Mendoza sued Nordstrom, alleging it failed to provide him statutorily guaranteed days of rest.
The Supreme Court first addressed whether the day of rest protection applies on a rolling basis or a week-by-week basis. Under the weekly interpretation, the calendar is divided into seven-day blocks and there is guaranteed at least one day of rest in each block. Under the rolling interpretation, the day of rest is provided if the employee worked the preceding six days. During its analysis, the Court evaluated the text of the statutes and its history, as well as the Industrial Welfare Commission Wage Orders. Most importantly, the Court pointed out that the Legislature defined a “workweek” as any seven consecutive days, starting with the same calendar day each week. The workweek is determined by each individual employer. Through its analysis, the Court ruled the day of rest provision should be interpreted on a weekly basis, thereby providing an employee at least one day of rest during each workweek.
The Court then addressed the exception to the day of rest issue regarding the instance an employee works six hours or less in any one day during the week. The Court analyzed the Legislature’s related provisions, as well as the applicability of the competing interpretations of Labor Code section 556. In response, the Court concluded this exception only applies if every daily shift that workweek involves six hours or less of work.
The final issue the Court evaluated is the meaning of “cause”. This term comes into effect as part of Labor Code section 552, which states an employer cannot “cause [its] employees to work more than six days in seven.” After evaluating the proposed definitions from both parties, the Court ruled that an employer has an obligation to apprise employees of their entitlement to a day of rest and must remain neutral regarding the employee’s exercise of that right. Simply put, the employer cannot encourage employees to forgo the day of rest or conceal the employee’s right to rest. However, the employer is not liable if the employee chooses to work a seventh day.
For any questions, please contact Matthew Jones at [email protected].