California employees are entitled to one rest day per seven days, but that rest day can fall on any day of the workweek, the California Supreme Court clarified last week in Mendoza v. Nordstrom, Inc. That means that an employee can work up to 12 days in a row, as long as the employee receives one day off in each workweek.

In Mendoza, the plaintiff (a barista and sales representative for Nordstrom) occasionally worked more than six consecutive days, particularly when asked by a supervisor or co-worker to fill in for another employee. He filed a putative class action and representative action under the California Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA) against Nordstrom claiming that it had failed to provide him with statutorily guaranteed rest days. After a summary judgment briefing in federal District Court and an appeal to the Ninth Circuit, the issue finally reached the California Supreme Court.

Until the Court’s ruling last week, there was uncertainty as to whether Labor Code sections 551 and 552, which prohibit an employer from “caus[ing] his employees to work more than six days in seven,” applied to any rolling seven-day period or whether the seven-day period should be determined by the workweek. A rolling period method would bar employers from scheduling employees for seven consecutive days of work, even when the days fell into two different workweeks.

The Ninth Circuit was also unsure of the right statutory interpretation in the Mendoza case; it certified the question and requested guidance from the California Supreme Court. The California Court confirmed that the calculation should be made on a workweek basis. Thus, employees can work for more than six consecutive days if the period stretches across more than one workweek and a day of rest is provided in each workweek.

The Court also found that an exemption from the rest day requirement for employees working six hours or less per day applies only to employees who never work more than six hours on any day of the workweek. Nordstrom had argued that it should apply where an employee works six or less hours on any day of the week, an argument that the Court believed would render parts of the statute meaningless. An employee may only be exempt from the rest day requirement if the employee does not work more than six hours on any day of the week.

As with many employment protections under California, employees may press employers to allow them to waive their rest days — whether because they want to adjust their schedules or just want to work longer hours to make extra money. So what constitutes “caus[ing]” an employee to forego a day of rest? On this issue, the Court took a less paternalistic approach. Employers may not induce employees to forego rest days, either explicitly or implicitly. However, an employee may still independently choose not to take a rest day, as long as the employee is on notice of the entitlement to take a rest day.

The decision is a victory for employers, particularly because it brings much-needed clarity to ambiguous Labor Code provisions that have generated their share of class and representative actions in the courts.

To read the full decision, please click here.