In Mendoza v. Nordstrom, Inc., ___ Cal.4th ___ (May 8, 2016), the California Supreme Court provided much-needed guidance to employers and employees alike concerning a number of questions about California’s “day of rest” statutes.

California Labor Code Section 551 provides that employee are “entitled to one day’s rest [from work] in seven.” Further, California Labor Code Section 552 prohibits employers from “causing” their employees to “work more than six days in seven.” These are the so-called “day of rest” statutes. California Labor Code Section 556, however, provides that these day of rest statutes do not come into play “when the total hours of employment do not exceed 30 hours in any week or six hours in any one day thereof.”

Unfortunately, there has been a lack of clarity about the requirements of these statutes and the exemption to them. Therefore, the highest court in California was asked by the federal Ninth Circuit to resolve the following unsettled questions (the Court’s answers are provided in italics):

Question # 1 – is the day of rest required by California Labor Code Sections 551 and 552 calculated by the workweek, or does it apply on a rolling basis to any seven-consecutive-day period?

Answer – a day of rest is guaranteed for each workweek, which is a regularly-recurring seven-day period that restarts on the same day each week. Therefore, periods of more than six consecutive days of work that stretch across more than one workweek are not per se prohibited. Although the workweek is set by the employer, most often it resets every Sunday. This means that it is possible for an employer to require an employee to work 12 days in a row without a day off (e.g. Monday of week 1 through Friday of week 2) and not run afoul of the State’s day of rest statutes.

Question # 2 – does the exemption in California Labor Code Section 556 for workers employed six hours or less per day apply so long as an employee works six hours or less on at least one day of the applicable week, or does it apply only when an employee works no more than six hours on each and every day of the week?

Answer – 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

Question # 3 – what does it mean for an employer to “cause” an employee to go without a day of rest (per California Labor Code Section 552): force, coerce, pressure, schedule, encourage, reward, permit, or something else?

Answer – 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.