In 1938, the federal government passed the Fair Labor Standards Act to address a variety of labor issues, such as overtime pay and minimum wage. Over the years, most states have also enacted labor laws that are specific to workers within their states. At times, California wage & hour laws conflict with federal laws. When this happens, employers must follow whichever standard provides the greatest benefit to the employee. This is a common occurrence in California, which has many wage and hour laws that are more favorable to workers than the federal statutes.
California Minimum Wage
The minimum wage is the lowest hourly rate at which an employer can pay most employees. There are some instances in which the minimum wage does not apply, and the exceptions are noted in the next section. As of 2015, the federal minimum wage was $7.25 per hour, but the minimum hourly wage in California was $9 per hour and scheduled to increase to $10 per hour on January 1, 2016. Thus, unless an employee is covered by one of the exceptions, a California employer cannot pay him less than the prevailing state minimum wage of $9 per hour.
Exceptions to California Minimum Wage
California laws permit a limited number of exceptions to the minimum wage requirement. The following employees may work for less than the prevailing minimum wage:
- The child, parent or spouse of the employer (who must usually be the full or partial owner of the business) may be paid a lower rate that is not specified under California statutes.
- Learners or trainees of any age who have no prior experience related to the occupation may receive a wage of not less than 85 percent of the prevailing minimum wage (rounded to the nearest nickel) for no more than their first 160 hours of work. For example, assume the minimum wage is $9; 85 percent of $9 is $7.65. An employee entering the job market for the first time may be paid $7.65 per hour for the first 160 hours of work performed for the company.
- Outside sales representatives are not covered by either federal or California minimum wage laws.
- Workers hired under a legitimate apprenticeship agreement may be exempted from minimum wage laws.
- Individuals who are physically and/or mentally disabled may work for less than the minimum wage whether employed by a for-private or nonprofit enterprise. Nonprofit organizations operating rehabilitation facilities or sheltered workshops that employ these disabled individuals may also pay them less than the minimum wage.
- Although federal law allows employers to pay a reduced hourly rate to employees who routinely earn tips, such as servers in a full-service restaurant, California law prohibits the practice. Even if employees earn a significant amount in tips every day, California employers cannot pay them less than the prevailing minimum wage.
California Overtime Pay
Overtime is another area in which the federal laws differ from California laws. Under federal law, an employer is required to pay “time and one-half” for all hours worked in excess of 40 hours during the workweek. The law does not address the number of hours worked in a day or the number of days worked during the week. Theoretically, under federal law, an employee could work two 20-hour days or four 10-hour days and still receive no overtime pay. California, however, requires overtime for all hours worked in excess of eight hours (but not exceeding 12 hours) in a workday as well as overtime for hours exceeding 40 during a single workweek. California law also requires employers to pay time-and-one-half for the first eight hours an employee works on the seventh consecutive day. If the employee works more than 12 hours in a single day or more than eight hours on the seventh day, the employer must pay an overtime rate of twice the employee’s normal hourly rate.
Exceptions to California Overtime Laws
California employers may not be required to pay overtime to certain employees.
- Employees working a valid alternative schedule may be exempt from overtime. For example, an employee may work four 10-hour days without earning overtime unless he exceeds 10 hours on any given day or 40 hours during the workweek.
- Employees of hospitals and residential care facilities may often be exempt from overtime pay or have different qualifying standards.
- Camp counselors, personal attendants, resident managers of retirement homes, childcare workers responsible for 24-hour care, ambulance attendants and drivers, employees of ski establishments during months in which skiing activities are underway and certain agricultural workers may be exempt from overtime pay or subject to different qualifications.
- Those who qualify as a salaried-exempt employee are typically exempt from overtime pay. Most salaried-exempt employees are executives, managers, supervisors or outside salespersons although certain computer workers may also be exempt.
The field of employment law is quite complex, and there are many issues not listed here which relate to California wage & hour laws specifically, such as the requirements for meal breaks and child labor limitations. Whether you are an employee or employer, engaging the services of an employment attorney is an excellent way to navigate the maze of California and federal labor laws. Employment attorneys advise employers on their legal requirements to help them avoid potential fines or lawsuits as well as advising and representing employees on their rights and recourse should those rights be violated. Should litigation ensue, the attorney can represent clients in court or before a labor board.
NOTE: Some California cities have passed their own minimum wage laws, which are not discussed here.
Here is a link to the California Department of Industrial Relations, which provides more information on state wage and hour laws: