California’s suitable seating rules require that employers “provide” seats to employees, per section 14 of the Wage Orders. However, they did not address what is required to show that seats were “provided.” The Court of Appeal recently decided this issue in Meda v. AutoZone, Inc., finding that there was a triable issue of fact as to whether seats were “provided” even if they were available, in part because the employee was not informed of their availability and the seats were not in his/her immediate vicinity.
In Meda, a former associate at AutoZone made a claim under PAGA for failure to provide suitable seating to parts counter and cashier station employees. AutoZone won summary judgment that the chairs were “provided” because chairs were available for use. However, the Court of Appeal reversed because only 2 chairs were available for 5-9 employees in any shift, the chairs were located in a manager’s area out of sight and there was no written policy or training on the issue, despite stated policy to make chairs available. The employee also stated she did not know she could use the seats, though no one told her not to use them.
Unfortunately, Meda opens up a whole can of worms rather than provide direct guidance on the issue but suffice it to say, suitable seating is a fact-intensive inquiry requiring consideration of factors such as how many seats are available for a certain number of employees, whether there is a written policy and/or training on the issue, and the location and proximity of the seats offered. Courts might also consider the nature of an employee’s job, how frequently an employee changes tasks or locations, the physical layout of the workplace, the number of employees sharing a workstation, and the extent to which a seat may obstruct work or cause congestion (or safety risks).The Meda Court recognized that it may not always be possible to have a seat at each workspace, but found that having to go to a manager’s area down a short hallway and around the corner to locate and move one of two chairs to the front counter was not sufficient for summary judgment, particularly where the employee was not told she could use the seat and she never saw anyone else using one.
Now is a good time to review the seats made available to employees and work with counsel on determining whether the seats and their locations are sufficient and how best to inform employees of their availability.