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California Supreme Court Confirms Day of Rest

The California Supreme Court said employees are guaranteed a day of rest for each workweek, although employees may choose to work the seventh day.

There is an exception for employees who work shifts of six hours or less, the court said, but only for those workers who never exceed six hours of work on any day of the workweek. Resolving the dispute in Mendoza v. Nordtrom, Inc., the court said the law protects the day of rest for anyone who works more than six hours a day.

"If on any one day an employee works more than six hours, a day of rest must be provided during that workweek," Justice Kathryn Werdegar wrote, adding that it is subject to the applicable exceptions.

Guaranteed Day Off

The case arose based on the claims of Christopher Mendoza and Meagan Gordon, who are former employees of Nordstrom. They worked at different locations for the retail chain in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego.

Mendoza sued in state court, alleging the store violated Labor Code sections 551 and 552 by failing to give him guaranteed days off. The case was removed to federal court, where Gordon's case was joined, and they proceeded as a class action.

After a bench trial, the case went to the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which asked the state Supreme Court to resolve the state law claims regarding the day of rest. Nordstrom argued that the day of rest could be applied on a rolling basis, so that employees could have the day off after six successive days of work.

No Rolling Basis

Acknowledging religious, legislative, and regulatory precedents, the court said the labor laws favor a rest day each workweek and not one day in seven on a rolling basis. Otherwise, the court said, overtime and part-time pay schemes would not make sense.

For example, the court said, employers would have to decide whether to count hours in a previous pay period or the subsequent period to calculate part-time employment. "Neither choice represents a sensible basis for identifying and distinguishing those part-time employees who may go without a day of rest," the court said.

"We conclude sections 551 and 552, fairly read in light of all the available evidence, are most naturally read to ensure employees at least one day of rest during each week, rather than one day in every seven on a rolling basis," the unanimous court said.

Employment lawyers say that other questions remain, including provisions under new laws for agricultural workers under AB 1066. Agricultural employers will have to apply the Mendoza decision and the new law to sort out rest days.

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