CA Supreme Court Rules on Suitable Seating Provisions for Employees
In a somewhat nuanced read on whether California employers are required to offer employees seating while performing their jobs, the CA Supreme Court ruled that the nature of the work at a given location must be considered, rather than a holistic view of the entire job. These decisions came as a result of two cases from a CVS Pharmacy clerk/cashier and a bank teller at JPMorgan Chase Bank in Kirby v. CVS Pharmacy , Inc. In both firms, the employers did not provide the employees with seats. The claims were made based on the California Wage Order requirements for “suitable seats” for employees when the “nature of the work reasonably permits the use of seats.”
Long story short, the cases made their way to the CA Supreme Court where the Court addressed three questions regarding this issue. In essence, the Court said: If the tasks being performed at a given location reasonably permit sitting, and provision of a seat would not interfere with performance of any other tasks that may require standing, a seat is called for.
Below are the three questions and the Court’s summarized responses:
Does the phrase “nature of the work” refer to individual tasks performed throughout the workday, or to the entire range of an employee’s duties performed during a given day or shift?
The Court’s answer: The “nature of the work” refers to an employee’s tasks performed at a given location for which a right to a suitable seat is claimed, rather than a “holistic” consideration of the entire range of an employee’s duties anywhere on the jobsite during a complete shift. If the tasks being performed at a given location reasonably permit sitting, and provision of a seat would not interfere with performance of any other tasks that may require standing, a seat is called for.
2. When determining whether the nature of the work “reasonably permits” use of a seat, what factors should courts consider? Specifically, are an employer’s business judgment, the physical layout of the workplace, and the characteristics of a specific employee relevant factors?
The Court’s answer: Whether the nature of the work reasonably permits sitting is a question to be determined objectively based on the totality of the circumstances. An employer’s business judgment and the physical layout of the workplace are relevant but not dispositive factors. The inquiry focuses on the nature of the work, not an individual employee’s characteristics.
3. If an employer has not provided any seat, must a plaintiff prove a suitable seat is available in order to show the employer has violated the seating provision?
The Court’s answer: The nature of the work aside, if an employer argues there is no suitable seat available, the burden is on the employer to prove unavailability.
These types of wage order claims are growing and create potential exposure to class action litigation and Private Attorney General Act (PAGA) claims. We encourage employers, particularly those in retail and banking, to assess their physical layout and job duties in each location to determine if the work may be done while an employee is seated. We can expect that an employer’s decision not to provide suitable seating will continue to come under scrutiny.
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