California Supreme Court Clarifies Rest Day Rules

The California Supreme Court’s ruling on Monday provides important clarification to the state Labor Code requirement that employers provide employees one day of rest for every seven days worked. Nordstrom employees argued that the nationwide retailer violated the law by requiring that they work more than six consecutive days. Although some of these laws are nearly 100 years old, there had been no meaningful interpretation by the courts and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals asked the California Supreme Court to answer unsettled questions of how these laws apply.

Labor Code sections 551 and 552 provide that employees are entitled to one day of rest in seven. There are exceptions for emergencies, or when employees work fewer than 30 hours in a week or six hours in any day thereof. The Ninth Circuit sought guidance on the following issues:

  • Is the day of rest required by the Labor Code calculated by workweek, or does it apply on a rolling basis?
  • Does the exemption for workers employed six hours or less per day apply only when an employee works no more than six hours on each day of the week, or will it apply so long as an employee works six hours or less on at least one day?
  • What does it mean for an employer to “cause” an employee to go a day without rest?

Employees argued that the law guaranteed a day of rest on a rolling basis within any seven-day period. Looking at the text of the day of rest requirement, its history, and other code sections, the court adopted a common sense interpretation that the law requires one day of rest during each workweek, rather than one rest day in seven on a rolling basis. Implicit in the holding is the notion that periods of more than six consecutive days of work that stretch across more than one workweek are not completely prohibited under the rule.

Nordstrom also claimed that Plaintiffs were not entitled to a rest day on their seventh day because at least one of the shifts they worked in the six prior days was for less than six hours. Labor code section 556 provides an exception for employees whose hours “do not exceed 30 hours in any week or six hours in any one day thereof.” The court ruled, however, that this exception applies only when an employee works six consecutive shifts in a workweek, and all of those shifts are six hours or less. Both of these requirements must be satisfied to be excluded from the day of rest requirement.

Lastly, the court addressed what it means to “cause” an employee to go without a day of rest. Nordstrom argued that unless the employer requires, forces, or coerces an employee to work on a seventh day, it hasn’t caused the employee to work. Plaintiffs conversely maintained that any day an employee allows, suffers, or permits an employee to work a seventh day, it has caused an employee to do so. The Court landed somewhere in the middle of the two arguments, holding that an employer cannot affirmatively seek to motivate an employee’s to forgo rest, but is not liable simply because an employee chooses to work a seventh day.

Employers should review their scheduling policies and practices and ensure that employees are not scheduled to work more than six days in a week, and that all employees are informed of their entitlement to take a day of rest. Employers may not encourage employees to work the seventh day during the work week, nor are they required to forbid employees from doing so. The central issue of any dispute over the requirement for a day of rest will be whether the employee was fully apprised of the right to take day off, and independently chose to work.

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