"Suitable Seats" Available: Employees prevail in California case

California requires employers to provide suitable seating under certain circumstances. There's been lots of litigation about what, exactly, is required. Recently the 9th Circuit decided that it needed to ask the Supreme Court of California for help in interpreting California law. The California Supreme Court obliged on April 4, 2016 in Kilby v. CVS Pharmacy. The rule says:

All working employees shall be provided with suitable seats when the nature of the work reasonably permits the use of seats.

Here are the questions that the 9th Circuit asked (as rephrased by the California court), followed by the California Supreme Court's answers:

Question # 1: Does the phrase “nature of the work” refer to individual tasks performed throughout the workday, or to the entire range of an employee's duties performed during a given day or shift?

Answer: The “nature of the work” refers to an employee's tasks performed at a given location for which a right to a suitable seat is claimed, rather than a “holistic” consideration of the entire range of an employee's duties anywhere on the jobsite during a complete shift. If the tasks being performed at a given location reasonably permit sitting, and provision of a seat would not interfere with performance of any other tasks that may require standing, a seat is called for.

Question # 2: When determining whether the nature of the work “reasonably permits” use of a seat, what factors should courts consider? Specifically, are an employer's business judgment, the physical layout of the workplace, and the characteristics of a specific employee relevant factors?

Answer: Whether the nature of the work reasonably permits sitting is a question to be determined objectively based on the totality of the circumstances. An employer's business judgment and the physical layout of the workplace are relevant but not dispositive factors. The inquiry focuses on the nature of the work, not an individual employee's characteristics.

Question # 3: If an employer has not provided any seat, must a plaintiff prove a suitable seat is available in order to show the employer has violated the seating provision? As explained in greater detail below, we answer those questions as follows.

Answer: The nature of the work aside, if an employer argues there is no suitable seat available, the burden is on the employer to prove unavailability.

You really need to read the whole case to get the flavor of the long struggle to define "suitable seats" in California.