The Employee’s Guide to California Wage and Hours Laws

Understanding California wage and hours laws can be instrumental in understanding if you may have a legitimate cause to file an employment lawsuit.

What are California Wage and Hours Laws?

The responsibilities an employee has and the rights they are entitled to are collectively known as labor law. Labor law can also mean the standards set forth by the law for work conditions and wage laws. This body of law can be further broken down into wage and hour law.

States can make their own labor laws, but all state and local laws must, at minimum, follow the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the federal law that determines minimum wage and prohibits child labor.

If you believe that your employer has violated California wage and hours laws, having a strong legal advocate on your side is essential. No matter your situation, Dychter Law Offices can help protect your rights and secure the compensation you have rightfully earned.


Overview of California Wage and Hour Laws

State wage and hour laws regulate an employer’s responsibilities regarding employee leave, minimum wage, overtime, mandatory breaks, and mealtimes. These are some of the most common labor law violations our firm has handled.

For any hours worked in excess of eight hours in a single day of work, California employees are entitled to one-and-a-half times the regular rate of pay and twice the regular rate for any time spent working in excess of 12 hours in a workday. Additionally, an employer must pay overtime wages in the amount of time-and-one-half of the employee’s regular hourly wage for any more than 40 hours of work in one week.

Employees must also be given a duty-free 30-minute meal period or rest period as required by California laws. No employee can waive their right to overtime and there are few ways they can waive their right to meal and rest breaks.

Minimum Wage and Hour Act


Typically, all California employees– except independent contractors – must be paid no less than the state minimum wage for the first eight hours of work in a work period as determined by the California Labor Code.

As of January 1, 2020, the California minimum wage is as follows:

  • $12.00 per hour for employers with 25 or fewer employees.
  • $13.00 per hour for employers with 26 or more employees.

The minimum wage will continue to rise each year until it is $15.00 an hour for all employees in 2022. This is for the state, as a whole. However, some counties and cities have a minimum wage that is higher than the state minimum. Los Angeles, for instance, currently has a minimum wage of $15 an hour for larger employees and $14.25 for smaller employees, while San Diego’s minimum wage will increase to $14 per hour in January 2021. If your employer has failed to pay you the appropriate minimum wage for your area, please contact an employment law attorney immediately.

California Exemptions from Wage and Labor Laws


Typically, California wage and labor laws apply to non-exempt employees only. This means that the laws regarding wages/hours do not apply if you are an independent contractor or an exempt employee.

Under California law, if a person is providing a service on behalf of an employer, they are considered an employee unless they are working as an independent contractor. However, such employees may not be independent contractors, despite what their employer says. Sometimes, employees are either purposely or in error classified as independent contractors to avoid payroll taxes and to avoid following the laws regarding minimum wage or overtime.

In general, an independent contractor is defined as someone who:

  • Provides a service as part of an agreement for a predetermined pay rate.
  • Has control over how the job is completed.
  • Files a 1099 tax document.

Other factors go into determining whether a person is an employee or an independent contractor under California labor laws, including:

  • Whether the work they are performing is typically performed by an employee or an independent contractor.
  • If the worker participates in distinct tasks for the business.
  • If the person is performing a job that requires certain skills.
  • How much time the person has for the work to be performed.
  • If the employer provides a physical place of employment or tools to perform job duties.
  • How the worker is paid for their time or if pay is based on the job.
  • If the worker is engaged in an employee-employer relationship.
  • If the work performed is part of the regular business.

Additionally, according to California employment law, exempt employees do not have to follow certain laws. The groups of employees considered to be exempt are professional, executive, or administrative. To be considered an exempt employee, a worker must meet the following criteria:

  • Half of their time is spent doing managerial, creative, or intellectual tasks.
  • Earns a monthly salary of at least minimum wage for working 40 hours per week.
  • Exercises judgment in performing job duties.

Some other employees who are exempt from overtime requirements include:

  • Doctors or surgeons who need a medical license to practice.
  • Highly skilled computer software employees who engage in intellectual work and exercise independent judgment.
  • Teachers who are employed by private schools and earn the lowest salary allowed by California law.
  • Employees who receive compensation from places whose total earnings exceed the minimum wage by one and a half times.

Unfortunately, California employers often misclassify exempt employees as non-exempt to avoid providing employees with breaks or paying for overtime. Employees should know they are not exempt just because they signed an agreement saying so and they are paid a salary instead of an hourly wage. If you are unsure whether your job qualifies you as an exempt employee or an independent contractor, don’t hesitate to reach out to Dychter Law Offices’ wage and hour attorneys.

Wage and Hour California Violations


If an employer violates the California wage and hour laws, employees have a right to be compensated. Common wage and hour violations include the following:

  • Not paying employees who work overtime as the law requires.
  • Not paying the minimum wage determined by California laws.
  • Requiring employees to perform off-the-clock work.
  • Not providing a meal break as required by law.
  • Misclassifying employees as independent contractors.
  • Falsely claiming that employees are not entitled to wage and hour requirements.

If an employee believes an employer has violated California’s labor laws, they should contact an experienced, knowledgeable lawyer for assistance. A skilled attorney can look at the violation and determine the best next step to take, like filing a Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) claim or a formal lawsuit.

Employees should also be aware that California offers whistleblower law protections where a whistleblower can not be subjected to retaliation or be wrongfully terminated. If your employer has retaliated against you for reporting a wage and hour violation, we encourage you to contact our office for reliable representation.

Why an Employee Must Protect Themselves Against Unfair California Labor Laws


Labor codes are statutes and state law that govern how a business is conducted. Sometimes, labor code is unfair, employers take illegal action against employees, or unions operate illegally under the National Labor Relations Act or NLRA. How the employer interacts with the union is also part of the act. There are rules that an employee must follow that are meant to protect them. In some cases, though, they can make work time more difficult.

While labor laws prevent an employee from work in excess, establish minimum wage laws, and pay overtime, the NLRA gives an employee whose wish it is to improve the conditions of their employer the right to act on those wishes. This could be by forming a union or joining one for 8 hours a day or all hours in a day. To preserve the right of an employee, the NLRA sets forth rules for elections in the union and collective bargaining just to name a few.

The NLRA ensures employers and unions cannot interfere with employees’ rights or wages like hourly rates or else they would be committing unfair labor practices.

The NLRA prevents employers from the following:

  • Establishing their own union that competes with any existing employee union. To see if an employee unfairly controls a work group, the National Labor Relations Board will look at who started it, if the employer plays a role, and how the group functions.
  • Discriminating against their own employees to discourage them from or forcing them to join a labor union or firing workers who go on strike to protect themselves from unfair labor practices.
  • Taking revenge on an employee for filing a charge against them.
  • Refusing collective bargaining.

To help ensure employees are being protected, employees may also call upon the Industrial Welfare Commission, though it is no longer in practice. It regulated wages, the hours to be worked, and the conditions in which an employee works.

How to Spot Common Violations


  1. The employer does not pay overtime. In accordance with the Fair Labor Standard Act (FLSA), employees who work over forty hours per week must receive 150 percent or one half times of their hourly wage.
  2. The employer pays below minimum wage.
  3. The workplace is not safe for employees.
  4. Refusing to pay when an employee is injured on the job.
  5. Misclassifying an hourly employee as a salaried employee.

An employee, their employer, or a union that thinks an unfair labor practice occurred may file a charge with the NLRB with the help of a skilled California labor law attorney. Any grievance an employee may have must be filed within six months of the incident occurring. The NLRA cannot be enforced through private lawsuits so they must be enforced through NLRB.

Wage and Hour Statute of Limitations California

A statute of limitations is a law setting a time limit by which an aggrieved party may file a lawsuit. In the state of California, the statute of limitations for filing a labor-law-related lawsuit is three years from the day the last violation occurred. 

What you will receive if you win a wage and hour lawsuit depends on the specific laws your employer violated. For example, in an unpaid wages claim, you can collect the money you are entitled to in addition to interest and attorney’s fees. If it was not due to an error and is found to be on purpose, you may also receive liquidated damages. If the employer did not provide breaks or meals, the employee may receive pay for one hour for each incidence of missed breaks.

With so much at stake and so little time to recover it, it’s always best to begin your wage and hour claim as soon as you discover or suspect the violation. To begin fighting for your rights and fair compensation, please contact us today to schedule a free, confidential consultation.