The California Supreme Court provided critical guidance this week on how to apply California’s requirement that workers receive one day of rest during each work week. In Mendoza v. Nordstrom, the Court held that the Labor Code requires one day’s rest in seven during the work week, not one day off within any rolling seven day period.
Although an employer cannot require an employee to work all seven days, it can permit an employee who freely chooses to work seven days to waive his or her right to the rest day. The waiver must be a fully informed one, meaning that the employer has an obligation to educate employees about the right to a day of rest before asking them to work seven days a week. An employer may not compel an employee to work seven days with pressure, threats, or special favors. An employer, instead, must remain “neutral” on whether the seventh day is worked. The case will be remanded back to the trial court for further proceedings, but the decision may effectively end plaintiff Mendoza’s claim as it is undisputed that defendant Nordstrom did not schedule Mendoza to work a seventh day during his work week. On the occasions he worked seven days a week, he was asked by co-workers or supervisors to fill in for another employee.
The Mendoza decision answers a few other practical questions about the Labor Code’s rest day mandate. It clarified that the law requires one day of rest during each work week, rejecting Mendoza’s claim that employees cannot be required to work seven days consecutive days during any seven day period. The Supreme Court noted that the Legislature intended to ensure employees received “a day of rest each week, not to prevent them from ever working more than six consecutive days at any one time.” A day off in a week one can be the first day of the week and can be the last day in week two, meaning that an employee can effectively be scheduled to work twelve consecutive days. It also clarified that, under the Labor Code, a day of rest is not required where the employee’s work week in total is no more than 30 hours, so long as no day during the week is longer than six hours.
The Court refrained from giving any guidance on the meaning of another exception to the rest day rule, which applies “where the nature of the employment reasonably requires that the employee work seven or more consecutive days.” However, the trial court in the case held that this exception is narrow and would not apply to “mundane” or “routine” situations where an employer is short-handed due to employee absences. Instead, the exception applies to certain types of employment and certain positions, such as when a farmworker is needed to plant a crop and bring it to harvest.
Because stiff penalties apply where the day of rest rule is violated, all employers should audit their scheduling policies to ensure compliance with the Supreme Court’s opinion. Employers should also ensure all employees are fully informed to their right to one day of rest during each work week, absent an applicable exception.