A California appellate court earlier this year gave a significant victory to employers in the state in a decision that provided the latest guidance on the current state-wide litigation on “suitable seating” for employees under state law. Specifically, these cases examine a California employer’s obligations, if any, to its employees to provide them with suitable seating under the state’s Industrial Welfare Commission’s (CIWC) orders. Section 14, the provision in most of the IWC’s wage orders, mandates employers to provide suitable seating to its workers in two situations — when the type of work reasonably allows the use of seats, and when a worker is not actively engaged in job duties that require him or her to stand (i.e., when there is a gap, or “lull” in business operations).
The Appellate Court’s Decision
LaFace v. Ralphs Grocery Co. was the first case on this issue that proceeded to trial after the California Supreme Court (CSC) decision in Kilby v. CVS Pharmacy, Inc. In Kilby, the CSC examined an employer’s obligation under the law to provide “suitable seating” to its workers under the CIWC’s wage orders. The issue was examined by the court as a matter of first impression. In LaFace the California appellate court decided two issues:
● An employer is not required to provide seating to workers when the expectation is that the employee keep busy and there is no gap in duties that would demand seating be provided; and
● Suitable seating claims, as well as other claims under the Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA) do not benefit from the right to a jury trial.
The Trial Court’s Decision
At the trial court level, LaFace challenged Ralph’s Grocery Co.’s policy of not providing seating to its cashiers. LaFace reasoned that these workers could reasonably perform their work duties while seated and that the grocer was obligated to provide seating for use by its employees during the “lulls” in the store’s operations. Following a three-week bench trial, the court found that the evidence was overwhelming in showing that the cashier work did not permit sitting.
Additionally, the court found that cashiers were expected to stay busy between customers, so there was no obligation to provide seating during operational lulls. Specifically, the evidence showed that Ralph’s Grocery Co.’s cashiers were expected to seek out new customers, restock products, straighten and arrange products in checkout stand lanes, put products left behind back in their aisles, and help other cashiers. LaFace appealed the second part of the trial court’s decision, but the appellate court affirmed the lower court’s holding.
The appellate decision is important, as it provides some direction to both employers and employees in California regarding the CIWC’s wage order and suitable seating.
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