By Michael Kun
We have written several times in this blog about California’s unusual – and unusually vague – “suitable seating” law, which requires some employers to provide some employees with suitable seating if the nature of their work reasonably permits it. The previously obscure law has become the subject of numerous class actions in California. And parties and the courts have struggled to interpret a vague law that has little legislative history and even less interpretive case law.
As we wrote most recently in January, the Ninth Circuit essentially threw up its hands and asked the California Supreme Court to clarify whether the term “nature of the work” refers to individual tasks that an employee performs during the day, or whether it should be read “holistically” to cover a full range of duties. It also asked the California Supreme Court to clarify whether an employer's business judgment should be considered in determining whether the nature of the work “reasonably permits” the use of a seat, as well as the physical layout of the workplace and the employee’s physical characteristics. Finally, it asked the California Supreme Court to clarify whether the employee must prove what would constitute a “suitable seat” to prevail.
After some speculation that the California Supreme Court might decline to answer these questions, it has now agreed to do so.
While the briefing and argument process will take time, employers in California should finally have much-needed guidance on this obscure law, allowing them to alter their practices as necessary and avoid these class actions.
As for those “suitable seating” class actions already pending, one would expect that many of them will be stayed until the California Supreme Court renders its decision.