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How Often Must California Workers Get a Day Off?

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Los Angeles, CACalifornia labor law protects workers’ right to a day of rest. The basic rule, as set out in in several interlocking sections of the California labor code, is one day a week.

More specifically, California labor law prohibits an employer from causing an employee to work more than six days in seven, but does not apply when the total hours of employment do not exceed 30 hours a week or six hours a day.

Christopher Mendoza worked for Nordstrom. On several occasions, he was asked by a supervisor or coworker to fill in for another employee. Many times, he worked more than six consecutive days. During each of these periods, some but not all of Mendoza‘s shifts lasted six hours or less. He sued, claiming that Nordstrom failed to provide him a day of rest.

Earlier this year, the California Supreme Court clarified what ”rest” means. In Mendoza v. Nordstrom the Ninth Circuit tackled the question of what a “week” is. Specifically:

• Is a week a rolling period of seven days, or a fixed period that always begins and ends on the same days;
• Do the “day of rest” protections go away for employees who work six or more hours in any day of the “week,” or do the protections disappear only if employees work fewer than six hours during all days of the newly-defined “week”; and
• What does it mean for an employer to “cause” an employee to work more than seven days? Is it coercion or permission?

The Ninth Circuit basically split the baby. It opted for the rolling period of seven days, which is less protective of employees than the fixed week. Under this interpretation, employees could find themselves working for as many as 12 days without a day of rest.
On the other hand, the court decided that employees who work for less than six hours at least one day in a week are entitled to a day of rest. This is more protective of workers.

Finally, it held that employers must remain strictly neutral in awarding or withholding favorable treatment based on whether a worker works extra days. That’s enforcement nonsense on wheels.

Employers and employees increasingly see scheduling as a basic term and condition of employment. It might be flexible shifts, on-call employment, being asked to clock in and out depending on hour-to-hour work volume, or to answer work phone calls when not technically “at work.” Scheduling looks like the new frontier of California labor employment law.

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