In an important decision for California employees and employers, the California Supreme Court issued its opinion in Mendoza v. Nordstrom, 2 Cal. 5th 1074, 393 P.3d 375 (2017) clarifying the Labor Code’s “day of rest” requirements. The Court was addressing questions posed by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals regarding how to interpret California Labor Code sections 551 and 552. See Mendoza v. Nordstrom, Inc., 778 F.3d 834 (9th Cir. 2015). Labor Code section 551 states that “every person employed in any occupation of labor is entitled to one day’s rest therefrom in seven.” Labor Code section 552 prohibits employers from “causing their employees to work more than six days in seven.” However, Labor Code section 556 provides that employers do not have to provide a day of rest “when the total hours of employment do not exceed 30 hours in any week or six hours in any one day thereof.”
The Court answered three questions posed by the Ninth Circuit regarding these Labor Code sections:
- Is the day of rest required by sections 551 and 552 calculated by the workweek, or does it apply on a rolling basis to any seven-consecutive-day period?
- Does the section 556 exemption for workers employed six hours or less per day apply so long as an employee works six hours or less on at least one day of the applicable week, or does it apply only when an employee works no more than six hours on each and every day of the week?
- What does it mean for an employer to “cause” an employee to go without a day of rest (§ 552): force, coerce, pressure, schedule, encourage, reward, permit, or something else?
Mendoza, 393 P.3d at 377.
The Court answered those questions as follows:
- A day of rest is guaranteed for each workweek. Periods of more than six consecutive days of work that stretch across more than one workweek are not per se prohibited.
- 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 workweek. If on any one day an employee works more than six hours, a day of rest must be provided during that workweek, subject to whatever other exceptions might apply.
- 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. An employer is not, however, forbidden from permitting or allowing an employee, fully apprised of the entitlement to rest, independently to choose not to take a day of rest.
The Court rejected the employee-plaintiff’s interpretation of sections 551 and 552 that the day of rest requirement should apply to on a rolling basis. Instead the Court held that the seven-day period is based on the workweek as defined by the employer. Thus, if an employer defines its workweek as Monday through Sunday, one day off must be provided in that week. It can be Sunday one week, Tuesday the next week, and Friday the next. Accordingly, “over the course of every calendar month an employee must receive ‘days of rest equivalent to one day’s rest in seven.’ (§ 554, subd. (a).) If at one time an employee works every day of a given week, at another time shortly before or after she must be permitted multiple days of rest in a week to compensate, and on balance must average no less than one day’s rest for every seven[.]” Mendoza, 393 P.3d at 383.
The Court also held that if an employee works more than six hours on any day of the workweek (as defined by the employer), the day of rest provision applies. The Court rejected an interpretation that would exempt employers from providing a day of rest to an employee who works six hours or less on just one day of the workweek. The Court observed that:
If a single day of six hours or less were enough to eliminate seventh-day-rest protection, an employee could be required to work, for instance, six straight eight-hour days, followed by a single six-hour day, followed by six eight-hour days, followed by a six-hour day, ad infinitum. Each week, the single slightly shortened day would excuse the employer from providing an actual day of rest, and the day of rest statutes would be converted from a guarantee of a complete day of rest to a guarantee of at least one day of no more than six hours of work. The exception would swallow the rule.
Mendoza, 393 P.3d at 384.
Finally, the Court held that an employer “causes” an employee to work more than six days in seven if it motivates or induces the employee to do so. This does not mean that the employer is liable if it simply permits an employee to work more than six days in seven. “[A]n 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.” Id. at 385. The Court rejected the employer’s interpretation of “cause,” stating that “[i]f we confine the interpretation of ‘cause’ to instances of express requirements or compulsions, we condone implied pressure that may nevertheless achieve an employer’s desired result, to the detriment of the state’s workforce and the long-standing policy in favor of one day’s rest in seven.” Id. at 386.