In the recent opinion Mendoza v. Nordstrom, Inc. (Case No. S224611, May 8, 2017), the California Supreme Court answered unsettled questions about the state’s day of rest statutes, Labor Code sections 550 – 558.1. These statutes prohibit an employer from causing its employees to work more than six days in seven without taking a day of rest, but do not apply when an employee’s total hours of employment do not exceed 30 hours in any week or 6 hours in any day.
In Mendoza, the Court ruled as follows:
- – A day of rest is guaranteed for each workweek. Periods of more than six consecutive days of work that stretch across more than one workweek are not per se prohibited.
- – The exemption for employees working shifts of 6 hours or less applies only to those who never exceed six hours of work on any day of the workweek. If on any one day an employee works more than six hours, a day of rest must be provided during that workweek, subject to whatever other exceptions might apply.
- – An employer causes its employee to go without a day of rest when it induces the employee to forgo rest to which he or she is entitled. An employer is not, however, forbidden from permitting or allowing an employee, fully apprised of the entitlement to rest, independently to choose not to take a day of rest.
With the court’s ruling in Mendoza, employers must ensure their break policies are in compliance with the law. Read on to learn more.
The plaintiffs, Christopher Mendoza and Meagan Gordon, are former employees of Nordstrom, Inc. (“Nordstrom”). On occasion, Mendoza’s supervisor would ask him to fill in for coworkers, which resulted in him working more than six consecutive days (Mendoza also worked more than six-hour shifts on such days but not always). Like Mendoza, Gordon also worked more than six consecutive days occasionally with her shift lasting more than six hours. Nordstrom’s established workweek runs from Sunday to Saturday.
Mendoza filed an action against Nordstrom in state court alleging that the company was in violation of Labor Code sections 551 and 552. Mendoza alleged the company failed to provide him with the statutorily guaranteed day of rest. The case was removed to federal court. Gordon filed a complaint in intervention once the claim was removed to federal court.
The district court held a bench trial on the merits of the case and concluded that Nordstrom did not violate Labor Code sections 551 and 552. The court held that, though section 551 guarantees a day of rest on a rolling basis for any seven consecutive days, such guarantee does not apply when an employee works at least one shift of six hours or less during that period. The court further cited that Mendoza and Gordon both worked at least one shift of less than six hours in the seven-day period. Since Nordstrom did not coerce either Mendoza or Gordon to work more than six consecutive days, the court dismissed the action.
California Supreme Court’s Holding
The plaintiffs appealed the court’s ruling. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit filed an order requesting the California Supreme Court to resolve the unsettled questions of law related to Labor Code sections 551 and 552. (Mendoza v. Nordstrom, Inc. (9th Cir. 2015) 778 F.3d 834).
On review, the California Supreme Court concluded that sections 551 and 552 ensured workers one day of rest each workweek instead of one day of rest for every seven days on a rolling basis. In the event an employee works more than seven consecutive days, the employee must be permitted multiple days of rest in a week to compensate for the hours previously worked.
The Court also concluded that the six-hours-or-less exception to the day of rest rule only applies if every daily shift in a given workweek is less than six hours.
The Court also struck down Nordstrom’s argument that it did not coerce the plaintiffs to work. The Court explained that it is unlawful for an employer to induce an employee to forgo a day of rest to which he or she is entitled. An employer can, however, allow an employee fully apprised of his or her rights to choose not to take a day of rest. In other words, an employer may not encourage an employee to forgo a day of rest, but is not liable simply because a fully informed employee chooses to work a seventh day.
Contact us for more information about how the recent Mendoza ruling may impact your company’s rest policies.