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California Supreme Court Clarifies Employer Obligation to Provide Rest Days To Employees

In Mendoza v. Nordstrom, Inc., the California Supreme Court answered several unsettled question concerning the construction of the state’s day of rest statutes, Labor Code §§ 550–558.1, at the request of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

In pertinent part, 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 Ninth Circuit asked the California Supreme Court:

  1. 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?
  1. 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?
  1. 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?

The California Supreme Court answered:

  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.

Accordingly, unless a California employer’s non-exempt employees work no more than 30 hours in a week and no more than six hours in a day, those employees are entitled to one day of rest for each workweek  (A narrow exception exists for employees subject to a collective bargaining agreement.) However, an employee who wishes to work seven days per week is not prohibited from doing so, but cannot be required by his or her employer. When an employee is required to work seven days in a week, he or she must be provided with a day of rest in another week to compensate him or her for working a seven day week. Finally, California law generally requires that non-exempt employees are paid 1.5 times their regular rate of pay for the first eight hours of work on the seventh day of work, regardless of the total hours the employee worked during the first six days. These employees are also entitled to double time pay for all hours worked beyond eight on the seventh consecutive day of work.

This communication may be considered advertising in some jurisdictions. It is intended to provide general information about legal developments and is not legal advice. If you have questions about the contents of this alert, please contact Oleg I. Albert at (415) 697-2000 or oalbert@aghwlaw.com.