In Mendoza v. Nordstrom, the California Supreme Court answered three questions from the Ninth Circuit concerning California’s “day of rest” statutes.  The Court’s decision clarifies a significant ambiguity for employers regarding the obligation to provide employees with their statutorily mandated day of rest.

Mendoza involved a putative class action filed by former Nordstrom employees alleging Nordstrom violated California’s Labor Code by failing to provide them with one day of rest in seven and causing them to work more than six in seven days.  After the district court granted summary judgment in Nordstrom’s favor, plaintiffs appealed to the Ninth Circuit.

Three provisions of the California Labor Code were at issue in Mendoza:  Sections 551, 552, and 556.  Section 551 entitles employees to “one day’s rest therefrom in seven.”  Section 552 prohibits employers from “caus[ing]” employees to work more than “six days in seven.”  Section 556, however, excepts from this prohibition employees whose “total hours of employment do not exceed 30 hours in any week or six hours in any one day thereof.”  The California Supreme Court answered the following three questions:

  1. Is the day of rest required by Sections 551 and 552 calculated by the workweek, or does it apply on a rolling basis to any seven-consecutive-day period?
  2. Does the exemption in Section 556 apply so long as an employee works six hours or less on at least one day of the applicable week OR does it apply only when an employee works no more than six hours on each and every day of the week?
  3. What does it mean for an employer to “cause” an employee to work more than six days in seven?

The Supreme Court’s opinion included a thorough discussion of the language and statutory history of these Sections, their interplay with the Industrial Welfare Commission Wage Orders, and their interpretation by the Industrial Welfare Commission and the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement.  After this extensive discussion, the Court concluded that:

  1. the day of rest required by Sections 551 and 552 is calculated by the workweek,
  1. the exemption in Section 556 only applies if every daily shift during the week was six hours or less, and
  1. an employer does not “cause” an employee to work more than six days in seven when it tells employees they are entitled to a day of rest and allows the employees to freely exercise that right.

Mendoza makes clear the complex and multi-layered nature of California’s employment laws.  The decision, however, provides much-needed (and mostly favorable) guidance to California employers concerning employee rest day requirements.