California Supreme Court Clarifies Day of Rest Rules

Employment Law  

May 10, 2017

This week the California Supreme Court clarified several issues related to California’s “day of rest” statutes in Mendoza v. Nordstrom, Inc. These provisions entitle employees to one day of rest each workweek, subject to certain exceptions.  Mendoza involved the claims of two former Nordstrom employees who occasionally worked more than six consecutive days after being asked by supervisors or coworkers to “fill in” by working the shifts of absent coworkers.

The Court determined that the day of rest required by Labor Code sections 551 and 552 is guaranteed for each workweek and does not apply on a rolling basis to any seven-consecutive day period.  This means that periods of more than six consecutive days of work that stretch across more than one workweek are not prohibited.  This could occur when there is an early day of rest in one week and a late day of rest in the next.

Several exemptions to the day of rest rules allow employees to work on a seventh day.  The Court ruled that the exemption provided by Labor Code section 556 — for employees working shifts of six hours or less — only applies if the employee works six hours or less on every daily shift worked in a workweek.  This interpretation allows work on the seventh day only when both the weekly limit, requiring work of 30 hours or less, and the daily limit, requiring work of six hours or less, are satisfied. 

Finally, the Court determined that so long as the employee is fully apprised of his or her entitlement to rest, an employer does not “cause” an employee to go without a day of rest if the employee independently chooses to work on the seventh day.  The employer’s obligation is to notify employees of the right to a day of rest and then maintain absolute neutrality as to the exercise of that right.  It is unclear what “absolute neutrality” entails in light of the fact that most employers are responsible for work schedules.  This standard will gain more clarity as the case develops, but the Court did note that the payment of overtime for seventh-day work is not considered an impermissible inducement to go without a day of rest.

Because the weekly standard impacts the payment of overtime and double-time for seventh day work, employers should make sure that they specifically define their workweek in policy materials and handbooks.  Violating the day of rest rules may result in a Labor Commissioner citation or the imposition of civil penalties.  Agricultural employers in particular should take note of this decision because AB 1066 recently removed the exemption from the day of rest rules long enjoyed by the agricultural industry.  Though the effective date for the elimination of the agricultural exemption is ambiguous until Wage Order 14 is revised, the safest course of action for agricultural employers is to comply immediately with day of rest requirements.