Omid Nosrati

California Supreme Court clarifies scope of 'day of rest' law

In a previous post, we discussed how the state's "day of rest" law, which dates back to 1919 and has long been the subject of considerable uncertainty, was at the epicenter of a highly anticipated case -- Mendoza v. Nordstrom -- before the California Supreme Court.

In recent developments, the state's high court handed down a unanimous decision earlier this week that experts indicate not only introduces some much-needed clarity, but also provides part-time employees working extended hours with a victory.

The case was originally filed back in 2009 by a former employee of Nordstrom, who alleged that the department store giant violated the California Labor Code by 1) failing to supply him with a one day's rest in seven and 2) "causing him" to work more than six out of seven days.

Granted class-action status, his two cases were ultimately defeated in a California-based federal court, which ruled in favor of Nordstrom. The decision was thereafter appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which, in turn, submitted the matter to the California Supreme Court owing to what it called the ambiguous nature of the state's day of rest law.  

In a 7-0 decision published on Monday, the high court ruled that the state's day of rest law could effectively be read in one of two ways:

  • Overtime or a rest day was required whenever a work schedule required an employee to work more than six straight days, such as a Tuesday through the following Friday (i.e., a rolling basis)
  • Each workweek is defined separately -- Monday through Sunday -- and overtime or a rest day is required for one of these days

The court opted for the latter interpretation, holding that it was more in harmony with the wording of the law, which declares that overtime is to be paid "the seventh day of work in any one workweek."

"[P]remium pay is available not on a rolling basis, for any seventh consecutive day of work, but only for employees who must work every day of an employer’s established regularly recurring workweek,” reads the opinion.

The justices also helped resolve confusion concerning another facet of the law, an exemption stating that employers are not bound by the day of rest law if an employee works 30 or fewer hours in a given week, or no more than six hours in any day of the week.

While Nordstrom sought to interpret this as applying to any and all employees who worked no more than six hours during at least one day of the workweek, the court held such an interpretation was too broad.

Instead, it held that the exemption means employees must be provided with overtime or a rest day unless they worked no more than 30 hours in a given workweek and six hours per day during that same workweek.

While experts praised the decision for introducing much-needed clarity, they also indicated that this won't be the last time the arcane law is the subject of a legal challenge. In particular, they point to the failure to clarify what exactly it means for an employer to "cause" an employee to miss their rest day as a likely issue.

Stay tuned for updates …   

If you are an employee who firmly believes your employer has violated your rights in any capacity -- from withholding pay to misclassification -- consider speaking with a skilled legal professional as soon as possible.

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