Wednesday, September 27, 2023
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CA High Court Clears Up Sitting-at-Work Rules

(CN) - The California Supreme Court clarified a state wage order requiring employers to provide all workers suitable seating if the nature of their work allows it.

The Ninth Circuit submitted certified questions regarding the California Industrial Welfare Commission's (IWC) implemented wage order after two related appeals from two different industries challenged its application.

In a case against CVS Pharmacy, employee Nykeya Kilby claims that she was told during her job interview and the training process that she was expected to stand while performing her duties as a customer service representative.

Kilby appealed from a trial court decision that her "entire range of assigned duties" at CVS - including stocking and straightening shelves, operating a cash register and clean up duties such as removing the trash and gathering shopping carts - required her to stand.

In another case, four bank tellers sued JPMorgan Chase Bank for not providing them seating while they fulfilled their job duties, which included handling deposits and withdrawals, escorting customers to safety deposit boxes, working a drive-up teller window, and checking to make sure ATMs were working.

The tellers also appealed a trial court decision that their duties were so varied that the bank was not required to provide them seating.

First enacted in 1911, the seating provision in question has gone through several modifications over the last 100-plus years including adding a "reasonableness" standard in 1976 and another to allow all employees to be provided adequate seating rather than just female employees.

Analyzing the IWC's intent in implementing the wage order, California Supreme Court Justice Carol Corrigan wrote on Monday that multiple provisions of the order may apply to a particular employee at different times throughout the day.

"If an employee's actual tasks at a discrete location make seated work feasible, he is entitled to a seat...while working there," Corrigan wrote. "However, if other job duties take him to a different location where he must perform standing tasks, he would be entitled to a seat...during 'lulls in operation.'"

The judge also addressed the "nature of the work" performed, writing that the phrase "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."

The reasonableness factor of the wage order is specifically highlighted in the ruling when Corrigan makes clear that an employer must give weight to all the pertinent factors when deciding if their employees should be permitted to sit, including deciding if providing a seat would impact the employee's overall job performance.

"The inquiry focuses on the nature of the work, not an individual employee's characteristics," Corrigan wrote, adding that an employer must be able to explain why a seat was unavailable if they decide to decline an employee's request.

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