And on the 7th day they rested
Day-of-rest laws, guaranteeing employees a day of rest on “the seventh day,” have been around for a long time. Under the old blue laws, that usually meant Sunday. But what does it mean now, when workweeks can begin and end on any day of the week?
Added wrinkle: employees who work from home any day, any time.
Two state court cases illustrate the dilemma of trying to apply 19th century law to 21st century workplaces.
Case No. 1: Employees can sue for Sunday work. Massachusetts law requires retailers to pay employees who work on Sundays at one-and-one-half their regular rates of pay, regardless of whether that Sunday work is overtime work.
Employees alleged that they worked on Sunday, without being paid time-and-a-half. Employer: Only the state can sue to enforce the Sunday premium pay law. A state trial court disagreed, and ruled for the employees.
Court: Massachusetts’ wage payment law requires prompt payment of all wages earned by employees, including higher wages paid for Sunday work. Employees, therefore, can sue to enforce all of an employer’s legal obligations to pay wages, including work on Sunday. (Basset v. Triton Technologies, No. 168CV03475, Mass. Supr. Ct., 2017)
Case No. 2: Rest after more than six days of work in seven. California law requires that employees who work six days have the seventh day off.
Twist: State law exempts from the day-of-rest-requirement employees who don’t work longer than 30 hours a week or six hours a day.
On several occasions, two employees were asked to fill in for other employees. Result: They worked more than six consecutive days. During each of those periods, some, but not all, of their shifts lasted six hours or less. They sued, arguing that since they worked six days in seven, they were entitled to a day of rest. Employer: Employees aren’t entitled to a day of rest, because the guaranteed day of rest can be determined on a rolling basis, as any six consecutive days. In addition, the day-of-rest law doesn’t apply to these employees because they worked fewer than six hours on at least one day of the workweek.
A federal trial court ruled for the employer, but then asked the California Supreme Court to interpret these two provisions of the law. That court rejected the trial court’s interpretation of state law.
California Supreme Court: Employees are entitled to a day of rest after they’ve worked six days out of seven in a workweek (i.e., 168 consecutive hours), not on a rolling basis of any six days. The court also ruled that the day-of-rest exemption for employees working shifts of six hours or less applies only to those whose shifts never exceed six hours of work each day of a week. (Mendoza v. Nordstrom, Inc., No. 12-57130/12-57144, Calif. Sup. Ct., 2017)
ANTIQUATED, BUT STILL THE LAW: It’s difficult to apply day-of-rest laws to modern workplaces, where many employees work autonomously. It’s even harder if you have business operations in more than one state. Worse: These laws can be tailored to only certain businesses. Remember: You have to accommodate employees whose religious traditions require a different day off than Sunday.
The chart below summarizes state day-of-rest laws. Heads up: Because many state laws contain numerous exemptions, visit your state labor department’s website to get the full story.
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