California Supreme Court Asked to Review “Suitable Seating” Law
January 11, 2014
California labor laws include a “suitable seating” provision, which has recently come under debate in the state courts. Two different labor laws include suitable seating provisions, one law applies to the mercantile industry and the other applies to the professional, technical, clerical, mechanical, and similar occupations. In both labor laws, the suitable seating provisions are identical and read as follows:
(A) All working employees shall be provided with suitable seats when the nature of the work reasonably permits the use of seats.
(B) When employees are not engaged in the active duties of their employment and the nature of the work requires standing, an adequate number of suitable seats shall be placed in reasonable proximity to the work area and employees shall be permitted to use such seats when it does not interfere with the performance of their duties.
Recent Suitable Seating Cases
Two proposed class action suits regarding suitable seating violations were dismissed and then appealed in 2013. The first lawsuit was brought by a former cashier at CVS Pharmacy, who spent 90 percent of her shifts behind the cash register and claimed the company violated the law when it refused to allow her to sit down during this time. The second lawsuit was filed by four former tellers at JPMorgan Chase Bank, and claimed the corporation unlawfully refused to let tellers sit down.
The trial court refused to allow the class actions suits to proceed, stating that a company may use business judgment in deciding whether employees should sit down based on the “entire range of an employee’s duties.” Because the companies stated the employees did not spend 100% of their time behind the register, the lower court found that standing may be required to allow them to move about the store. However, the employees disagree, stating that while they are behind the register, they should be allowed to sit down.
On appeal, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit had three main questions:
Does “nature of the work” refer to the full range of an employee’s duties or to individual tasks?
Should courts consider the employer's business judgment as to whether the employee should stand, the physical layout of the workplace, or the physical characteristics of the employee?
If an employer has not provided any seat, does a plaintiff need to prove what would constitute 'suitable seats' to show the employer has violated Section 14(A)?
Because this decision could potentially affect a large number of companies throughout California and could possibly result in tens of millions of dollars in penalties, the Court of Appeals requested on January 2, 2014 that the California Supreme Court review the questions and decide the answers. The individual cases will be put on hold until the Supreme Court makes a decision, and we will be keeping you posted on those decisions.
If you have any concerns about your employer violating state or federal labor laws, you should always contact Pershing Square Law Firm for assistance today.