California employers need to be mindful of a new kind of wage-hour class action – class claims arising from the “suitable seating” requirements of the California Industrial Welfare Commission’s wage orders. 

The wage orders set forth what employers must do with respect to employees’ wages, hours and working conditions. There are 17 wage orders, applying to every industry and occupation. Most of the wage orders provide that “all working employees shall be provided with suitable seats when the nature of the work reasonably permits the use of such seats.” Unfortunately, the wage orders do not define “suitable seats” or “reasonably permits.”   

In Bright v. 99 Cents Only Stores, a cashier at a discount retail chain filed a class action against her employer alleging that the company did not provide cashiers with “suitable seating.” Unlike the typical wage-hour class action, this case does not involve a claim that employees were underpaid. Instead, the plaintiff seeks to use the alleged wage order violation to trigger the penalty provisions of the California Private Attorney General Act (PAGA), which amount to $100 for each aggrieved employee for the first violation and $200 per pay period for each aggrieved employee for subsequent violations. The Court of Appeal recently ruled that the plaintiff can proceed with her case and, if she proves the employer did not provide suitable seating, recover PAGA penalties.

The retail industry is the first industry in the cross-hairs of the plaintiffs’ bar for seating violation class actions, but employers in the hospitality and manufacturing industries should expect to be targeted soon. The decision of the Bright court permitting PAGA penalties for seating violations may lead to class actions for violations of other obscure provisions of the wage orders, such as requirements relating to changing rooms, resting facilities and workplace temperatures. California employers should take immediate measures to ensure they are in compliance with the seating requirements and other provisions of the California wage orders.