Recently, in Mendoza v. Nordstrom, Inc., the California Supreme Court resolved certain unsettled questions with respect to California's Day of Rest rule, which is codified at Labor Code §§ 550-558.1. The Day of Rest rule guarantees employees "one day's rest in seven" and prohibits an employer from "caus[ing] his employees to work more than six days in seven," but the rule does not apply "when the total hours of employment do not exceed 30 hours in any week or six hours in any one day thereof." Although this rule has been part of California's labor law for quite some time, California employers have had relatively little guidance on what the rule requires, and, therefore, how employers can comply with the rule. That is, until Mendoza.
In Mendoza, the plaintiff, an employee of Nordstrom, brought suit against Nordstrom in state court alleging, among other things, that Nordstrom had violated the Day of Rest rule. The plaintiff alleged that, on several occasions, he was asked by a supervisor or a coworker to fill in for another employee, which meant that the plaintiff had to work for more than six consecutive days. Some, but not all, of the plaintiff's shifts lasted six hours or less. The plaintiff alleged that these practices were violations of California's Day of Rest rule, and that he was not an employee exempted from the rule, i.e. employee not working 30 hours in any week or six hours in any one day. Nordstrom removed the case to federal district court, which granted summary judgment to Nordstrom on the Day of Rest claims. Mendoza appealed, and the Ninth Circuit asked the California Supreme Court to answer three questions with respect to the Day of Rest rule.
The Ninth Circuit's first question was whether the day of rest required under the rule was calculated by the work week or if it applied on a rolling basis to any seven-consecutive-day period. Under the workweek interpretation, the calendar is divided into seven-day blocks, and the employer does not violate the Day of Rest rule as long as it allows its employees to take a day of rest at least one day in each one-week block. Under the rolling interpretation, the employer must allow any employee who has worked the preceding six days in a row a day or rest on the seventh day. The difference in the two different approaches can be illustrated as follows:
Assuming that an employer has an employee scheduled to work like the above, the employer does not violate the Day of Rest rule if the workweek interpretation applies, but violates the rule if the rolling interpretation applies. The plaintiff in Mendoza argued for the rolling interpretation, while Nordstrom stated that the workweek interpretation was the correct one. The California Supreme Court agreed with Nordstrom on this issue.
The Ninth Circuit's second question was whether the exemption from the Day of Rest rule for workers employed six hours per day applied so long as an employee worked six hours or less on at least one day of the applicable workweek or whether it only applied when an employee worked no more than six hours on each and every day of the week. This question was important because Nordstrom argued that, because the plaintiff had worked six or less hours at least one day of the week, the plaintiff was exempted from the rule's application. The California Supreme Court stated that an employee can only be exempt from the rule if the employee worked six hours or less each and every day of the week. The Court reasoned that allowing the exemption to apply to employees who work six hours or less on at least one day of the workweek would lead to an absurd result wherein employers would be free to force employees to work every day without rest ad infinitum as long as one of the days worked was six hours or less.
Finally, the Ninth Circuit asked the California Supreme Court what it meant for an employer to "cause" an employee to go without a day of rest. According to Nordstrom, unless an employer requires, forces, or coerces an employee to work on a day of rest, it has not caused the employee to work. The plaintiff, on the other hand, argued that whenever an employer allows, suffers, or permits an employee to work on a day of rest, it has caused the employee to go without a day of rest. The California Supreme Court disagreed with both the plaintiff's and Nordstrom's interpretations, stating that, under the Day of Rest rule, an employer is obligated to apprise its employees of their entitlement to a day or rest and to maintain "absolute neutrality" as to the exercise of that right. However, an employer will not be punished simply because an employee independently chooses to work on the day of rest and the employer passively allows the employee to do so.
The California Supreme Court's ruling in Mendoza is good news for employers, as employers can now more readily determine whether or not their employee schedules conform with California's Day of Rest rule. However, employers would do well to re-examine their current employee schedules to make sure that the schedules comply with the Supreme Court's interpretation of the Day of Rest rule in Mendoza. Additionally, employers should revisit the practices of its managers in scheduling employees' workweek, including, but not limited to, asking employees to fill in for co-workers, as the managers' actions could be construed as "causing" employees to go without a day of rest.