California Court of Appeal Clarifies Meaning of “Provide” in Context of Suitable Seating
Los Angeles, Calif. (July 27, 2022) - On July 19, 2022, the California Court of Appeal issued an opinion in Meda v. AutoZoners, Inc. that further defined an employer’s obligation to “provide” its employees with suitable seating pursuant to the Industrial Welfare Commissions’ Wage Orders. The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s granting of summary 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 not subject to summary judgment.
Background: Suitable Seating
Section 14(A) of the Industrial Welfare Commissions Order No. 7-2001 (the Order) mandates the provision of suitable seats to all working employees “when the nature of the work reasonably permits the use of seats.” This Order first went into effect on July 1, 2014, and is inapplicable to state employees, outside salespersons, immediate family members (but not siblings) of an employer, or national service program participants.
This case was initiated on November 16, 2017, when plaintiff/appellant Monica Meda filed a claim against her employer under the Labor Code Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 (PAGA). Meda alleged she was not provided with suitable seating as mandated by the Order. The employer moved for summary judgment by presenting evidence that at all times two raised chairs had been made available to Meda and other similarly situated employees. Reasoning that the meaning of “provide” for purposes of the Order was to “make available,” the trial court granted the employer’s motion.
“Provide” May Require More Than Making a Seat Available
The California Court of Appeal disagreed with the trial court. Considering the protective purpose of the Wage Orders and the fact-intensive inquiry used in other wage and hour cases, the court adopted a liberal construction of “provide” and reasoned that a genuine factual dispute existed as to whether the employer had actually “provided” chairs. The court found relevant the following facts: the chairs were not located at the cashiers’ workstations but, rather, were near or in the manager’s office; managers typically used the chairs to work either in the manager’s office or at a nearby workstation; the employer did not provide training to employees on the availability of the chairs; and no employees used the chairs (unless as part of a reasonable accommodation for pregnancy or disability).
The appellate court analogized the term “provide” in the context of suitable seating to the term “provide” in the context of meal periods. In the 2012 Brinker decision, the California Supreme Court interpreted “provide” to require an employer to not just make meal periods available, but to also “refrain from any practice that might discourage or impede the employee from taking advantage of the meal break.” While the Court of Appeal declined to address whether employers need to offer seating at every workstation or for every employee, 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.
While the California Court of Appeal ultimately returned the case to the trial court for further proceedings towards this fact-intensive inquiry, the opinion is illustrative of factors that may lead to a finding that the employer failed to “provide” suitable seating. Employers should keep their employees apprised of both (1) the placement of chairs or other seating within the workplace, and (2) their availability for use by employees throughout the workplace. Informing employees can be accomplished by the distribution of an informal notice or memo. Employers should also consider whether there are any facts that could cause employees to believe they cannot use the seats.
Lewis Brisbois’ labor & employment attorneys are available to assist with analyzing employer policies and practices regarding provision of suitable seating. For more information, contact the author or editor of this post or visit our Labor & Employment Practice page to find an attorney in your area.
Hussain Turk, Associate
Ashleigh Reif Kasper, Partner