June 13, 2017

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Make the Days Count: New California Guidance on Workweek Schedules

Employers in California now have long-overdue clarity about when their employee schedules comply with California law.

The California Supreme Court last Monday handed down a unanimous opinion, Mendoza v. Nordstrom, Inc., that clarifies the meaning of California’s “day of rest” statutes. These statutes make it illegal for an employer to “cause” an employee to work “more than six days in seven,” unless “the total hours of employment do not exceed . . . six hours in any one day thereof.”

The Mendoza opinion resolved some ambiguities in the meaning of the three phrases in quotation marks.

Rest Day Can Be at Beginning, Middle or End of Any “Workweek”

The plaintiff in this case, Christopher Mendoza, sued his former employer, Nordstrom, Inc., because on three occasions he had worked more than six days in a row at his job as a barista (and later a sales representative). Mendoza claimed that this schedule violated the day of rest statute because he “work[ed] more than six days in seven.”

Nordstrom countered that its workweek lasted from Sunday through Saturday – and that Mendoza received one rest day in each seven-day workweek, thus complying with the statute.

FIGURE: The first of Mendoza’s work schedules alleged to have violated the day of rest statutes.

chart

The California Supreme Court agreed with Nordstrom, holding that as long as an employee has one day of rest in every seven-day workweek, the employee can work more than six days in a row without the employer violating the day of rest statutes. So according to the court, the schedule depicted above is lawful.

Employees Can Waive Their Day of Rest

Mendoza also claimed that Nordstrom had broken the law by “caus[ing]” him to work through his rest days, even though Mendoza himself requested the chance to work on his regularly scheduled rest days. Nordstrom argued that employees should be given the freedom to choose whether or not to work through a rest day, so long as there is no coercion or penalty by the employer, and that this promotes greater flexibility and economic opportunity for employees. The court agreed that while an employer may not induce an employee to work through a day of rest, an employee who is fully apprised of the entitlement to rest can freely and independently choose not to take a day of rest.

Interpretation of Six-Hour Per Day Exception

The day of rest statutes say that employers are not required to provide a day of rest to an employee in any week for which “the total hours of employment do not exceed . . . six hours in any one day thereof.” The court held that this requires an employer to provide a day of rest if an employee works more than six hours on any one day in a given workweek.

Note that the court’s holding may be limited with regard to a unionized workforce. The Labor Code recognizes that the requirement of one day’s rest in seven applies in a union setting, unless  the parties’ collective bargaining agreement expressly provides otherwise.

California’s many labor laws impose complicated obligations on employers. As the Mendoza case makes clear, even simple phrases like “more than six days in seven” can lead to confusion and potential liability.

© 2017 Schiff Hardin LLP

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About this Author

Matthew W. Callahan, Schiff Hardin, Complex Civil Litigation Lawyer, Custody Disputes Attorney
Associate

Matthew W. Callahan practices civil litigation. He has represented clients in a wide variety of cases in both state and federal court, from multi-million dollar personal injury claims to a custody dispute over a cat. Whatever the size of the case, Matt approaches it with tenacity and care.

Before starting at Schiff Hardin, Matt was a Technology & Civil Liberties Fellow at the ACLU of Northern California. His work focused on data privacy, online free speech, and government surveillance, as well as litigation under the U.S. and California...

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