In Mendoza v. Nordstrom, Inc., the California Supreme Court clarified how courts and employers should interpret California’s “day of rest” statutes, set forth at Cal. Lab. Code §§ 551, 552 and 556 – which generally provide that employees shall not work more than six out of seven days. The matter is currently on appeal to the Ninth Circuit, which requested that the California Supreme Court decide how to apply California’s “day of rest” provisions.

Christopher Mendoza was a Nordstrom sales representative who filed a putative class action asserting that Nordstrom violated California’s “day of rest” provisions by asking him to fill in for other employees on occasion, with the result that Mendoza sometimes worked more than six consecutive days in a row. Mendoza alleged that California’s day of rest statute should apply to situations where he worked six consecutive days, even when those six days did not fall within the same workweek.

The Court disagreed. While acknowledging that there is an inherent ambiguity in the text of the statute, the Court ultimately determined that a “day of rest” must be provided on a work week basis, as opposed to a rolling basis. The Court found that calculating the day of rest on a weekly basis would provide consistency and make it easier for employers to develop employee schedules, even if that means an employee would work more than six days in a row without a day of rest.

The Court also held that an employer who informs its employees of their entitlement to a day of rest does not incur liability when those employees voluntarily elect to work.

The Court also read Labor Code Section 556 as expanding California’s day of rest statutes to situations where the total hours worked in a workweek by an employee do not exceed thirty or the employee did not work more than six hours per day on any given day during the workweek. Labor Code Section 556 states, “[s]ections 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.” To read it otherwise, the Court explained (i.e. to exempt employers from providing a day of rest when the employee worked less than six hours on only one day during a workweek), would render the 30 hour requirement under the statute meaningless.

The Mendoza decision provides valuable guidance for California employers. Employers should not schedule employees to work more than six days in any given workweek unless an employee worked less than thirty hours in that workweek or worked less than six hours per day, each day, during the workweek. Further, to avoid liability for an employee who chooses to work on his or her day of rest, California employers should be mindful that the employee’s decision to forego rest be truly voluntary, and not coerced in any other way by a promise of promotion, seniority status or any other benefits.