California Supreme Court Issues Ruling on Employee Seating

lunchIn Kilby v. CVS Pharmacy, the California Supreme Court clarified when employers must provide employees with seating at work. The applicable California state wage orders require employers to provide suitable seats to employees when the “nature of the work reasonably permits the use of seats.” Prior to the Kilby case, there was a lack of controlling precedent about the meaning of the phrase “nature of the work.”

To place the dispute into perspective, the employers argued that the decision whether seating was needed required analysis of an employee’s duties as a whole during a complete shift, as well as the layout of the workplace and the employer’s own business judgment. The employees’ position, by contrast, was that each particular task had to be examined; if any task could be performed while seated, the employer should be required to provide seating.

The Supreme Court adopted a middle ground. It held that the “nature of the work” element referred to the actual tasks performed by an employee at a particular location, rather than the “holistic” analysis urged by the employers. Focusing on the actual work done at a particular location would, according to the Court, enable courts and, presumably, employers, to determine objectively whether the “nature of the work reasonably permits the use of seats” based on a totality of the circumstances test. The circumstances to be considered include the frequency and duration of tasks as well as the feasibility and practicability of providing seating.

What Employers Should Do Given This Ruling

Recognizing the Kilby opinion is riddled with legalese and provides little clear guidance, California employers with employees who may be entitled to seating—particularly if a request has been made—should seek advice from their employment counsel.

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