On April 4, 2016, the California Supreme Court took a stand by issuing a long-awaited opinion in Kirby v. CVS Pharmacy, Inc. The decision clarifies certain ambiguities in an employer’s obligation to provide suitable seating to employees. At issue was a provision in California’s Wage Orders that requires employers to provide all employees “with suitable seats when the nature of the work reasonably permits the use of seats.” The Court held that “nature of the work” refers to the task performed at a given location where the employee is claiming a right to a suitable seat, instead of a holistic approach. The Court also adopted a “totality of the circumstances” test to assess whether a work location “reasonably permits” suitable seating.
Kirby v. CVS Pharmacy, Inc. arises from a putative class actions filed by a cashier and bank teller. The plaintiffs alleged their employer violated the suitable seating provision in various California Wage Orders by failing to provide seats. The plaintiffs appealed unfavorable district court decisions to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Ninth Circuit requested clarification from the California Supreme Court on the proper interpretation of three areas of the suitable seating provision, including the meaning of “nature of work” and “reasonably permits,” and who bears the burden to show suitable seating is available.
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