Earlier this month, the California Supreme Court issued rulings on three previously-unanswered questions relating to the “Day of Rest” requirement of Labor Code Sections 551 and 552. In Mendoza v. Nordstrom, Inc., decided May 8, 2017, the Court first addressed the meaning of §551 (“[E]very person employed in any occupation of labor is entitled to one day’s rest therefrom in seven”) and §552 (“[N]o employer shall cause his employees to work more than six days in seven.”)
“SEVEN DAYS” MEANS A REGULAR WORK WEEK
Plaintiff Mendoza, an employee of Defendant Nordstrom, asserted that these Code sections required that in any period of seven consecutive days, the employer is required to provide the employee one day of rest. Nordstrom argued that the reference to “seven” in both sections was to a regular work week (e.g., Sunday to Saturday, Monday to Sunday, etc.) — in other words, the regular work week established by the employer.
Based on an analysis of legislative history and other related Labor Code sections, the Supreme Court ruled that the “day of rest” protection provided to employees applied on a week-to-week basis, and not on a “rolling basis” as asserted by employee Mendoza. Thus, an employer could theoretically require an employee to work 12 straight days without providing the employee a day of rest. For example, the employer could require an employee to work Monday through Saturday in week 1, and Sunday through Friday in week 2, without violating Sections 551 and 552. By providing the employee with a rest day in both weeks (Sunday in week 1 and Saturday in Week 2), the employer would be complying with the mandates of these Sections of the Labor Code.
THE “SIX HOURS IN ANY ONE DAY EXEMPTION”
The second question the Court addressed was how the six-hour day exemption in §554 should be applied. Section 554 provides that “Sections 551 and 552 shall not apply to any employer or employee when the total hours of employment do not exceed 30 hours in any week or six hours in any one day thereof.” Does “six hours in any one day” mean that the exemption from the “rest day” requirement means that, so long as any one day in the seven-day work week is six hours or less, the exemption applies? Or, does it mean that the exemption applies only if every day within the seven-day work week is six hours or less. The Court ruled that every day within the week must be a workday of six hours or less for the exemption to apply. The Court further ruled that the 30 hours per week and six hours per day were in the conjunctive — meaning, the “rest day” exemption applies only if the employee works no more than 30 hours in a work week and no more than six hours in any day of the work week.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO “CAUSE” AN EMPLOYEE TO WORK A SEVENTH DAY?
The third and final question addressed and answered by the Court was the meaning of the proscription in §552 that an employer not “cause his employees to work more than six days in seven.” [Emphasis added]. Employee Mendoza contended that whenever an employer allows, suffers or permits an employee to work a seventh day, it has “caused” the employee to work. Nordstrom, on the other hand, argued that unless the employer requires, forces or coerces an employee to work a seventh day, it has not “caused” the employee to work on the seventh day.
The Supreme Court concluded that neither the employee nor the employer was correct. Rather, said the Court, “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 forego rest or conceal entitlement to rest, but is not liable simply because an employee chooses to work a seventh day.”
In so ruling, the court noted that “[F]or a century employers have been liable for wages for passively suffering or permitting work (citations omitted), but the Legislature chose not to write the obligation to afford of day arrest so broadly (e.g., “An employer shall not suffer or permit an employee to work more than six days in seven”), and forbade only causing an employee to forego rest.” In conclusion, the court ruled: “An employer cannot affirmatively seek to motivate an employee’s forsaking rest, but neither need it act to prevent such forsaking.”
These interpretations of the Labor Code by our state Supreme Court provide much needed clarification for employers and the lawyers who represent them. For further information on this and other Labor Code issues, contact the award-winning and AV-rated employment law attorneys at Gehres Law Group, P.C. at (858) 964-2314 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our attorneys are pleased to offer complementary evaluations to new clients.
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