The California Supreme Court in San Francisco today clarified a state law that requires employers to give workers one day of rest within seven days.
The law, enacted in 1937, says:
“Every person employed in any occupation of labor is entitled to one day’s rest therefrom in seven.”
It also says:
“No employer of labor shall cause his employees to work more than six days in seven.”
The question before the court, in a lawsuit filed against Nordstrom Inc. by two former workers, was whether the day-of-rest requirement is calculated per workweek or on a rolling basis for every seven continuous days.
Former employees Christopher Mendoza, who worked as a barista and sales representative in San Francisco and San Diego, and Meagan Carter, who worked as a sales associate in Los Angeles, said they had on occasion worked as many as 8 or 11 consecutive days.
They argued a day off was due within every seven consecutive days, while Nordstrom contended the requirement was met if an employee had a day off sometime within every workweek. Nordstrom’s workweek runs from Sunday to Saturday.
The seven-member state high court said the law is “manifestly ambiguous.” But the panel ruled unanimously that the history of the law and the wording of other state labor laws indicate the requirement should apply per workweek and not on a rolling basis.
Justice Kathryn Werdegar wrote:
“We conclude [the law’s provisions], 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 court also interpreted another section of the law that allows an exception to the rule when the total hours of work are less than six hours per day.
The panel said the exception is allowed only when the work is less than six hours every day within a week, not just on one day.
Otherwise, Werdegar wrote, “the exception would swallow the rule,” because workers could be required to work every day with no days of rest so long as one shift per week was limited to six hours.
The case was originally handled in federal court in Los Angeles, where a trial judge ruled against the workers because they had worked at least one six-hour shift within every seven days.
But after the employees appealed, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco asked the California Supreme Court to step in to decide how to interpret the state law.
The appeals court said the questions in the case were “of extreme importance to tens of thousands of employees in California” and the state high court should decide the answers.
The case now will go back to the 9th Circuit for further proceedings.