Wages and Hours Laws in California: A Guide for Employers and Employees

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Wages and Hours Laws in California: A Guide for Employers and Employees

Why are wages and hours laws important to both employees and their employers? These laws protect employees from having their wages stolen by unscrupulous employees, but they also protect law-abiding employers by identifying the bad players and either shutting them down or bringing them into compliance.

 There are several areas of the wages and hours laws that lead to violations. They include: 

  • Misclassification of employees as exempt from wage and hour laws
  • Misclassification of an employee as an independent contractor
  • Failure to provide meal and rest breaks
  • Failure to pay minimum wage
  • Failure to pay overtime
  • Requiring work when an employee is off-the-clock

Take a Closer Look at California Wages and Hours Laws

The California Labor Commissioner’s Office is there to ensure workers receive the pay they’re due and to ensure that honest employers are not penalized by companies that don’t follow the rules and may cut corners to boost sales or make false promises that draw employees away from the competition. These are the laws that all employers must abide by.

  1. Classification of Exempt Employees

California wage and labor laws apply to all non-exempt workers. What is an exempt employee? Exempt employees include:

  • A child, spouse, or parent of the employer
  • Administrative, executive, and professional employees, including doctors
  • Airline employees
  • Babysitters aged 18 or older who provide childcare in the employer’s home
  • Cab drivers
  • Commercial fishing crew members
  • Drivers whose hours are regulated by the Federal Government or the California Code of Regulations
  • Employees whose monthly pay is at least twice what a minimum wage employee receives.
  • Independent contractors
  • Motion picture projectionists
  • Outside salespeople
  • Professional actors
  • Radio and TV announcers, news editors, or chief engineers
  • State, political, or national service employees
  • Student nurses
  • Traveling carnival ride operators who work full-time hours
  • Union workers
  • Workers who get paid 1.5x the minimum wage and at least half of their income also comes from commissions
  1. Minimum Wage

On January 1, 2023, California’s minimum wage increased to $15.50 for all California employers. Many counties and cities have minimum wages that are higher than the state-wide minimum wage. The ranges can be great, but you have a minimum wage of $15.75 in Almed, $16.04 in Los Angeles, $17.20 in Cupertino and Los Altos, or the highest wage of $18.15 in Mountain View. 

Some cities also have two different minimum wages. One is for small employers and the other is for large employees. For example, in West Hollywood, large employers must pay $17.50 per hour, while small employers (less than 50 employees) must pay $17 an hour. The UC Berkeley Labor Center website has the latest locality wages.

  1. Rest and Meal Breaks

Most employees qualify for one 30-minute meal break (unpaid) as long as they are working more than five hours that day. If they’re working more than 12 hours, they get a second 30-minute (unpaid) meal break. If a worker is not allowed to leave the workplace during the meal break, it must be paid. In addition to meal breaks, workers get a 10-minute break for every four hours of work.

  1. Overtime Pay

Overtime pay in California is required after 8 hours of work in one day or 40 hours in one week. Overtime pay is 1.5x for hours worked in excess of 8 to 12 hours worked in one day and 2x for hours exceeding 12 per day. Overtime rules also apply to the number of days worked in one week. If you work seven consecutive days, you get 1.5x for the first 8 hours of day seven and 2x for hours worked after the first 8 hours on day seven.

One area that changed in 2023 was overtime for agriculture workers. With Assembly Bill 1066, agricultural employers with no more than 25 employees have to pay overtime wages to workers who work more than 50 hours a week or more than 9 hours per day. For agricultural employers with 26 or more workers, overtime must be paid after 40 hours in a week or 8 hours in one day.

  1. Off-the-Clock Work

Once an employee’s shift ends or they’ve clocked out, a worker cannot be told they must keep working. If a worker is asked to answer a call after the shift ends, that work must be paid at the hourly wage or at overtime rates if the worker’s hours have exceeded the overtime pay rules.

  1. Payday Requirements

Most employers must pay employees at least twice per month on designated days. It might be the 1st and 15th of the month or every other Thursday. Employers may prefer to pay weekly, and that’s completely acceptable.

Salespeople in a motor vehicle dealership must be paid once per month. Workers in agriculture can be paid once per month unless they’re employed by a farm labor contractor, in which case the payment must be weekly.

Wages earned from the 1st to the 15th of the month have to be paid by the 26th day of the month. Wages earned from the 16th to the final day of the month must be paid by the 10th. Overtime has to be paid in the next payroll period.

If an employee is terminated, laid off, or resigns, wages and accrued vacation must be paid immediately. There are a few exclusions to this rule. 

  • Oil drilling employees must be paid within two business days of termination or discharge.
  • Seasonal employees in canning, during, and drying of fish, fruit, or vegetables can be paid within 72 hours of the termination.
  • Workers involved in motion picture production who are terminated must be paid by the next scheduled payday.

Understanding the Enforcement of California Wage and Hour Laws

If you believe California wage and hour laws were violated, how do you file a complaint? You can file a complete through the state’s labor board, file a lawsuit, or join a class action suit if one exists. Employment law experts in California know the laws and offer the advice you need to determine what to do next. Plus, they help you prepare for what to expect after you file a complaint.

 How can you protect your rights as a California employee? Talk to a California employment attorney. A free consultation is important as it helps you understand your rights, and you’re not under any obligation. What’s important is that you don’t stay quiet and accept the violations. 

One of the top reasons that an employee remains quiet is that they fear retaliation. California law prohibits retaliation or wrongful termination. This includes being transferred, demoted, suspended, or terminated after filing a complaint. It also includes having your hours or pay reduced, making threats to the employee, or disciplinary actions taken against the employee.

You can speak up against wage and hours laws violations and not fear being fired or retaliated against in any way. If your employee or someone at work does violate whistleblower laws, you need to speak to the California employment law experts at Shegerian Conniff. 

Shegerian Conniff offers free consultations where you’ll gain insight into your rights and whether you have a valid complaint. If we take your case, our employment attorneys typically work under a contingency fee arrangement, meaning you don’t pay us unless we win your case. At that point, our fee is taken out of your settlement or award.

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