California employers can now schedule employees with more confidence when the press of business requires employees to work beyond their normal work schedule. The California Supreme Court has clarified California’s “day of rest” statute. The ruling affords employers flexibility in scheduling employees and clarifies some of the law’s ambiguities while leaving a few unanswered issues.

This “day of rest” rule is promulgated by Labor Code sections 551 and 552. Section 551 requires “[e]very person employed in any occupation of labor [to be] entitled to one day’s rest therefrom in seven,” while section 552 mandates that “[n]o employer of labor shall cause his/her employees to work more than six days in seven.” There is also an exemption to the requirements “when the total hours of employment do not exceed 30 hours in any week or six hours of any one day thereof” (§556). The California Supreme Court was asked to clarify the meaning of these “day of rest” provision which were at issue in Mendoza v. Nordstrom, Inc.

Supreme Court Answers Ninth Circuit’s Questions

The California Supreme Court was specifically asked to answer three questions by the federal Ninth Circuit:

  1. California Labor Code section 551 provides that “[e]very person employed in any occupation of labor is entitled to one day’s rest therefrom in seven.” Is the required day of rest calculated by the workweek, or is it calculated on a rolling basis for any consecutive seven-day period?
  2. California Labor Code section 556 exempts employers from providing such 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.” Does that exemption apply when an employee works less than six hours in any one day of the applicable week, or does it apply only when an employee works less than six hours in each day of the week?
  3. California Labor Code section 552 provides that an employer may not “cause his employees to work more than six days in seven.” What does it mean for an employer to “cause” an employee to work more than six days in seven: force, coerce, pressure, schedule, encourage, reward, permit, or something else?

In its ruling, the Supreme Court addressed each of the above questions.

Day Of Rest Is Measured By The Workweek Defined By The Employer. In response to the first question, the Court found that “a day of rest is guaranteed for each work week,” rather than on a 7-day rolling basis. The Court also found that “[p]eriods of more than six consecutive days of work that stretch across more than one work week are not per se prohibited.” The Court explained that while the Legislature intended to ensure employees had a day of rest in each week, the Legislature did not intend to prevent employees from ever working more than six consecutive calendar days at any one time.

Exception to Day of Rest Requirement Clarified. To answer the second question, the Supreme Court discussed the Labor Code section 556 exemption, which provides, “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.” In its discussion, the Court found that the exception to the seventh-day-rest protection only applies to employees who work no more than six hours each day of the given work week. In so ruling, the Court found that both limits (the weekly limit of 30 hours and the daily limit of six hours) of the statute must be given effect. The take away for employers is that employees asked to work no more than six hours on any one day, and no more than 30 hours total, may be given a schedule with seven days of work.

Employees May Voluntarily Decide to Work More than Six days in Seven. In response to the third question, the Court addressed the meaning of the term “cause” in Labor Code section 552, which provides that an employer may not “cause his employees to work more than six days in seven.” The Court explained the term “cause” implied a certain “affirmative role in motivating or inducing action.” Thus, the Court found that an employer’s “obligation is to apprise employees of their entitlement to a day of rest and thereafter maintain absolute neutrality as to the exercise of that right.” Employees who want to voluntarily work more than 6 days in seven should be educated on their rights. We suggest employees document their request to voluntarily work the schedule to their employer.

What Does the Court’s Ruling Mean for Employers?

The Court’s ruling clarified a major point of ambiguity for employers who now may look at a single work week in scheduling a “day of rest” for employees, rather than reviewing previous weeks to determine the rolling period start and end dates. Further, the ruling clarified that employees are allowed to work more than seven days in a row if they are given time off equivalent to one day’s rest in seven days.

The Court’s ruling also provides clarification for employers scheduling employees who work less than full-time. The ruling explained that the day-in-rest exemption only applies to those who never exceed six hours of work on any day of the work week.

However, some ambiguity still remains for when employers “cause” employees to work through their rest day. For instance, the Court’s definition does not address whether employers are allowed to call and ask employees if they can work, or whether this would be considered “causing” an employee to work. As a result, it is important for employers to properly document when an employee voluntarily wants to work more than 6 days in seven.

Employers should review their work week schedules to ensure they meet the above requirements in appropriately scheduling a “day of rest” for employees. Employers should consider training their management teams or those with scheduling responsibilities about some of the sensitivities in this area.