Have a Seat: California Court of Appeal Provides Guidance on Requirement That Employer’s “Provide” Suitable Seating in the Workplace

By: Hussain Turk, Ashleigh Reif Kasper & Alaleh T. Khosrowpour

On July 19, 2022, the California Court of Appeal issued a published opinion in Meda v. AutoZone, Inc., holding there was a triable issue as to whether the employer “provided” suitable seating to its customer service employee at the front of the store by placing seats at workstations in another area and not advising her of the availability of the seating, thereby overturning a lower court’s summary judgment for the employer.

Plaintiff Meda worked as a part-time sales associate at an AutoZone auto parts store for around six months. As a sales associate, Meda was responsible for a variety of tasks, including assisting customers at the parts counter, retrieving parts, stocking shelves, operating cash registers, cleaning the store, moving the merchandise around the store, and stocking shelves. 

Meda resigned from her job and filed a claim under California’s Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 (PAGA) against her former employer, AutoZoners. She said that AutoZoners failed to provide suitable seating to employees at the cashier and parts counter workstations in violation of Industrial Welfare Commissions Order No. 7-2001, section 14 (a) (the Order). The Order provides that:

(A) All working employees shall be provided with suitable seats when the nature of the work reasonably permits the use of seats. (B) When employees are not engaged in the active duties of their employment and the nature of the work requires standing, an adequate number of suitable seats shall be placed in reasonable proximity to the work area and employees shall be permitted to use such seats when it does not interfere with the performance of their duties.

Meda asserted that AutoZoners failed to “provide” suitable seating to employees at the cashier and parts counter workstations, where some or all of the work required could be performed while sitting. In response, AutoZoners filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that it satisfied the seating requirement because it had two chairs available to its associates. The chairs were not placed at the cashier or parts center workstations but were in, or just outside, the manager’s office. In opposition to the motion for summary judgment, Meda contended AutoZoners did not “provide” seating as required because no one told her the chairs were available for use at the front counter workstations, she never saw anyone else use a chair at the workstations, and she was only given the option to use a chair as a brief accommodation after an on-the-job injury. The trial court granted AutoZoners’ motion for summary judgment. Meda appealed the judgment.

The California Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s judgment, holding that where an employer has not expressly advised its employees of the availability of seating, and where the employer has not provided a seat at a workstation, the question of whether an employer has “provided” suitable seating is fact-intensive and may not be appropriate for summary judgment. The Court of Appeal declined to address whether employers need to offer seating at every workstation or for every employee. However, the Court of Appeal noted that the proximity of such seating to the workspace and employee knowledge of the availability of seating are factors to be considered when assessing whether an employer has “provided” suitable seating.

Takeaway

The opinion provides some insight on things an employer should be doing to establish that they are “providing” suitable seating to their employees when required by the Order. Those things include informing employees of (1) the availability and placement of chairs or other seating in the workplace, and (2) the availability of those chairs or other seating for use by the employees. Best practices would include communicating these things to employees in writing and, of course, retaining those notices.

For more information on this topic, see our legal alert from July 27 titled “California Court of Appeal Clarifies Meaning of ‘Provide’ in Context of Suitable Seating.” You can also subscribe to this blog to receive email alerts when new posts go up.

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