Yesterday, the California Supreme Court answered some admittedly “unsettled questions” under California law regarding an employer’s obligation to provide a day of rest to employees under California’s day of rest statutes (codified at Labor Code §550-558.1. These statutes prohibit an employer from “caus[ing] his employees to work more than six days in seven” (§552), but do not apply “when the total hours of employment do not exceed 30 hours in any week or six hours in any one day thereof.” (§ 556).
The ambiguity of the statutes creates left many employers to wonder — what does it mean to “cause” an employee to work more than six days in seven? Does it mean force, coerce, pressure, schedule, encourage, reward, permit, or something else entirely? Similarly, what does a “week” mean? Does it mean the employer’s pre-set work week or does it mean any rolling 7-day period?
In Mendoza v. Nordstrom, the California Supreme Court answered these long unsettled questions and held:
(1) That a day of rest is guaranteed for each work week as defined by the employer. Periods of more than six consecutive days of work that stretch across more than one work week (as defined by the employer) are not per se prohibited.
(2) The exemption for employees working shifts of six hours or less applies only to those who never exceed six hours of work on any day of the work week. If on any one day in the work week an employee works more than six hours, a day of rest must be provided during that work week, subject to whatever other exceptions might apply.
(3) An employer “causes” its employee to go without a day of rest when it induces the employee to forgo rest to which he or she is entitled. Thus, an employer is not forbidden from permitting or allowing an employee who has been fully apprised of the entitlement to choose not to take a day of rest.
(4) In addition, the Court ruled that employers must inform employees of their right to a day of rest. In the Court’s words, “an employer’s obligation is to apprise employees of their entitlement to a day of rest and thereafter to maintain absolute neutrality as to the exercise of that right. An employer may not encourage its employees to forgo rest or conceal the entitlement to rest, but is not liable simply because an employee chooses to work a seventh day.”
As a result, California employers should update their employee handbooks to include language notifying employees of their day of rest rights. Employers should also review their wage-and-hour policies to ensure that employees who work more than 5 days a week are not triggering day of rest liability for the employer, given these new standards.
Employers who violate California’s day of rest laws are liable for civil penalties of $200 per employee per pay period under the catch-all provisions of California’s Private Attorney General Act (“PAGA”), plus the payment of reasonable attorneys’ fees to the aggrieved employee.
You can read the Court’s full opinion in Mendoza v. Nordstrom here.