California is among the best places in the country to be an employee. While both federal and state law provide protections for workers, California’s statutes go further than federal law and the laws of most other states. Some of the most common wage and hour protections for California employees include:
- Minimum wage requirements
- Overtime pay requirements
- Mandatory meal and rest break provisions
- Protection for employees misclassified as independent contractors
Common Wage & Hour Issues
MINIMUM WAGE REQUIREMENTS
Federal law sets the minimum wage for most employees at $7.25 per hour. However, the California minimum wage law sets the bar higher. For most employers with 25 or fewer employees, the California minimum wage is $10.50 per hour in 2018. For larger employers, the minimum is $11.00 per hour. In some areas, local law requires higher wages. For example, in Los Angeles County, small employers must pay at least $12.00 per hour. Those with 26 or more employees are required to pay at least $13.25 per hour.
Keep in mind, these are the minimum wage rates that were in effect at the time this webpage’s publication. For updated minimum wage information, please contact us directly.
MEAL BREAK & REST PERIOD REQUIREMENTS
The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not require an employer to offer breaks or meal periods. However, California law is much stricter. In California, non-exempt employees are entitled to a meal break of at least 30 minutes and one paid 10-minute rest period if they work longer than 5 hours. The meal period requirement may be waived for employees who work between five and six hours, but only by mutual agreement. And, the meal break cannot be waived if the shift is longer than six hours.
Additional breaks and rest periods are required for longer shifts, and are determined by the number of hours worked.
An employee must be relieved of all responsibilities and be free to leave the premises during a meal break, unless circumstances make that impossible, and an on-duty meal break agreement exists. For example, an “on duty meal” might be appropriate for a lone security guard in a remote location. However, employees who are not relieved of all duties during their meal breaks must be paid for that time.
MEAL BREAK & REST PERIOD VIOLATIONS
Employers may violate these requirements in many different ways, including:
- Not providing required meal breaks or rest periods
- Failing to relieve employees of all duties during unpaid meal breaks
- Requiring employees to remain on the premises during breaks
OVERTIME PAY REQUIREMENTS
Both state and federal law mandate that non-exempt employees be paid at a higher rate for overtime. However, the specifics of the calculation differ. Federal law requires only that hours in excess of 40 per week be paid at 1.5 times the regular rate of pay. In California, the rules are much more complicated, but also more favorable to employees.
For example, in California, most workers are entitled to overtime pay if they work more than eight hours in one day, even if they total less than 40 hours for the week. Similarly, working seven days in a row triggers overtime requirements, regardless of the number of hours worked.
OVERTIME PAY VIOLATIONS
Employers may violate overtime pay requirements by:
- Underreporting hours to avoid payment of overtime rates
- Not paying time and a half for overtime hours
- Misclassifying workers as exempt to avoid overtime pay
- Improperly calculating the regular rate overtime pay is based on
If your employer isn’t properly compensating you for overtime, you have options. An experienced employment lawyer can help you fight for the compensation you deserve.
MISCLASSIFICATION OF EMPLOYEES AS INDEPENDENT CONTRACTORS
Classifying an employee as an independent contractor has many benefits for the employer. For example:
- The employer isn’t responsible for payroll taxes
- Independent contractors don’t receive benefits, such as sick pay
- Independent contractors aren’t protected by most employment laws, such as:
- Minimum wage requirements
- Mandatory meal breaks and rest periods
- Overtime pay requirements
Independent contractors are also not protected by workers’ compensation and are not eligible for unemployment benefits based on the independent contracting position.
Because of these “benefits,” many employers unfairly and illegally classify their employees as independent contractors.
Both the U.S. Internal Revenue Code and California law prohibit and provide penalties for the intentional misclassification of employees as independent contractors. In determining whether an independent contractor should have been classified as an employee, both the state and federal government consider factors such as:
- The degree of control the employer exercises over the employee/independent contractor
- Who provides the equipment used to perform the work
- Whether the services performed are core to the business
- The duration of the arrangement
- Whether the employee/independent contractor works in the employer’s office or facility
If Your Employer Isn’t Following the Law, Get Help
State and federal law provide remedies for workers whose employers don’t play by the rules. However, the mix of administrative proceedings and litigation can be complex and confusing. If you feel that your employer is violating your rights by misclassifying you, failing to pay you according to the law, or denying you appropriate meal breaks and rest periods, talk to an experienced employment lawyer right away.
Call us at (866) 537-6197 to schedule a free consultation.