As we discussed here, pending before the California Supreme Court was its interpretation of California’s suitable seating requirement. Specifically, how employers should interpret whether the “nature of the work” requires a seat. The Court issued its decision on April 4, 2016.
California’s labor regulations require that all employees “be provided with suitable seats when the nature of the work reasonably permits the use of seats.” The California Supreme Court determined that the “nature of the work” refers to the tasks performed at the employee’s particular workstation, as opposed to using a holistic consideration of all tasks performed throughout the workplace over the course of the day. Thus, according to the Court, the relevant tasks under consideration are those performed at the cash register or at the teller window, as opposed to the supplemental tasks performed in other locations of the store or bank.
The Court clarified what factors should be considered in assessing whether the “nature of the work” reasonably permits an employee to sit. These factors include, but are not limited to (i) the frequency and duration of tasks, (ii) the feasibility and practicability of providing seating, (iii) the physical layout of the workspace, and (iv) the employer’s business judgment (i.e., a judgment that standing employees are better able to provide prompt and effective customer service). Finally, regardless of the nature of the work, the employer bears the burden of proving the unavailability of seating if the employer argues that no suitable seats were available.
An employer’s business judgment, while not dispositive, is still an important factor in determining whether the “nature of the work” reasonably permits an employee to sit. And, how an employer exercises this judgment (i.e. in a uniform way across job categories and locations versus in a varied way) could impact the scope of suitable seating cases. Since these cases typically arise as an effort to collect civil penalties under PAGA, they need not be certified as class actions. However, as we have discussed here, courts may narrow the scope of PAGA actions where the purported violations were not the result of a uniform employer practice or policy. Employers who carefully consider the use of seats for each job category and each specific location may less likely to face state-wide PAGA actions.
California employers should also take care to distinguish between the California Labor Code seating rule and the requirements of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. Under the latter, which involves a distinct analytical framework, an employer may be required to provide seating as a possible form of reasonable accommodation to a qualified employee with a disability as opposed to providing suitable seats, where reasonable, to employees in a specific job category.