California Labor &
Employment Law Blog

May. 8 2017

California Supreme Court Clarifies Day of Rest Rules

Topics: Court Decisions, Wage & Hour Issues

Today, the California Supreme Court issued its opinion in Mendoza v. Nordstrom, clarifying California's day of rest requirements.  These requirements are set forth in Labor Code sections 551 and 552. Section 551 provides that “every person employed in any occupation of labor is entitled to one day’s rest therefrom in seven,” and Section 552 prohibits employers from "causing their employees to work more than six days in seven."  However, Section 556 exempts employers from the duty to provide a day of rest “when the total hours of employment do not exceed 30 hours in any week or six hours in any one day thereof.”  While these provisions do not appear too complicated or hard to follow at first blush, compliance has been challenged in wage and hour litigation, raising several questions of what these provisions technically mean.  Questions that have arisen include the following:

  • What does it mean to "cause" an employee to work more than six days in seven?  Is it enough to "allow" the employee to work seven days in a row, or must the employer require the employee to work more than six days in a row to be found in violation of the statute?  
  • Is the day of rest required for any consecutive seven-day work period on a rolling basis, or is it measured based on the employer's workweek (the definition of which varies from employer to employer and may not match a calendar week)?
  • Does the exemption from the day of rest requirement apply where the employee works 6 or less hours on at least one day during the workweek, or must the employee's hours be 6 or less every day of the workweek (and no more than 30 for the entire week)?  

The California Supreme Court agreed to answer these questions at the request of the Ninth Circuit in Mendoza v. Nordstrom.  Here's how the Court ruled on these issues today:

  1. 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.
  2. The exemption for employees working shifts of six 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.
  3. 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 respect to question (1), the Court held that the seven-day period is based on the workweek as defined by the employer. Thus, if the employer uses a calendar week, then the seven-day period (during which there should be one day of rest) is based on each calendar week.  If the employer defines its workweek differently, then the seven-day period desingated by the employer controls.  However, the one-day-of-rest-in-seven provision does not apply on a rolling basis to every consecutive seven-day period.

With respect to question (2), the Court held that if an employee works more than 6 hours on any day of the workweek, the day of rest provision applies.  The Court rejected an interpretation that would exempt employers from providing a day of rest to an employee who works 6 hours or less on just one day of the workweek.  Thus, if an employee's hours exceed 6 on any day of the workweek, the day of rest requirement will apply.  You now ask, "What if the employee does not work more than 30 hours per week?"  Unfortunately, the Court chose not to clarify whether the day of rest exception for employees working no more than 30 hours per week or 6 hours per day should be read in the conjunctive or disjunctive (because the Ninth Circuit did not expressly ask the Court to answer this particular question).  Thus, left for another day (and more litigation) is the issue of whether the day of rest requirement applies to an employee who works more than 6 hours one or two days of the workweek, but whose total hours for the workweek do not exceed 30. The conservative approach of course, it to provide the opportunity for a day of rest to any employee who works more than 30 hours per week and/or more than 6 hours in any one workday. 

Finally, with respect to question (3), the Court held that an employer "causes" an employee to work more than six days in seven if it motivates or induces the employee to do so.  This does not mean that the employer is liable if it simply permits an employee to work more than six days in seven.  "[A]n employer‘s obligation is to apprise employees of their entitlement to a day of rest and thereafter to maintain absolute neutrality as to the exercise of that right. An employer may not encourage its employees to forgo rest or conceal the entitlement to rest, but is not liable simply because an employee chooses to work a seventh day."  Based on this interpretation, an employer generally should not affirmatively schedule or require employees to work more than six days in seven, but it is okay to offer employees the opportunity to work more than six days in seven, so long as they are apprised of their entitlement to one day's rest each workweek and notified that they will not be penalized for choosing to take a day of rest (nor rewarded, apart from being paid their earned wages, for not taking a day of rest).

While today's opinion clarified some issues relating to California's day of rest requirements, it also left an important one unanswered.  Specifically, California Labor Code section 554 provides an exception from the day of rest requirement where the "nature of the employment reasonably requires that the employee work seven or more consecutive days, if in each calendar month the employee receives days of rest equivalent to one day's rest in seven."  There is a lack of guidance on when the "nature of the employment reasonably requires" seven or more consecutive days of work so as to allow accumulated rest days to be taken at a different time during the month, and today's opinion does not shed light on that subject.

California employers are advised to review their scheduling and pay practices to ensure compliance with California's day of rest requirements, as clarified by the California Supreme Court today.  Employers are further reminded that California has special overtime compensation rules that apply to work performed on the seventh consecutive day of a workweek (time and one half for the first 8 hours of work performed on the seventh consecutive day of the workweek, and double time for hours in excess of 8). 

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About the Editor

Robin Largent represents employers, including major food and retail companies, in all types of employment litigation: wrongful termination, retaliation, breach of contract, wage and hour (California Labor Code) and unfair competition. She also regularly counsels and advises California employers on issues of compliance with California and federal employment laws.
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