Your wage and hour rights as an employee in California and how your employer violates them.
Updated: Jan 16
As an employee in California, you are entitled to certain rights that protect you as a worker beyond those set forth by federal law. You’re given rights and protections when it comes to your wages and breaks. You’re given the right to earn a minimum wage as well as the right to earn overtime pay. You’re also given the right to take an uninterrupted rest or meal break.
What is California’s minimum wage?
California has set a higher bar than the federal minimum wage. As of the publishing of this article, the federal minimum wage is a paltry $7.25 per hour. The minimum wage in California starts at $15.50, but varies by county and industry. In some counties, the minimum wage is set to over $18 per hour.
What are my overtime rights?
California defines overtime as “employment beyond eight hours in any workday or more than six days in any workweek.” You’ll receive 1.5x your regular rate of pay for overtime worked below 12 hours a day. For any overtime work performed over the 12th hour, you’ll receive double your regular rate of pay. You’ll also receive double your regular rate of pay for work performed on the 7th consecutive work day. These rights only apply to “non-exempt” employees - I’ll touch back on that soon.
What are my rights to rest and meal breaks?
If you’re an employee in California who works more than 5 hours in a day, then you are entitled to at least one 30-minute meal break. This meal break must be provided within the first 5 hours of the workday. If you work more than ten hours during a single workday, then you’re entitled to a second 30-minute meal break.
California law also gives you the right to take rest breaks if you work 3.5 or more hours in a day. Workers are entitled to a ten-minute rest break for every four hours, or a substantial fraction thereof. In a typical 8-hour workday, you should be given the opportunity to take 2 10-minute uninterrupted rest breaks and at least a 30-minute uninterrupted meal break.
How are my wage and hour rights violated?
One of the most common methods that employers use to violate your wage and hour rights is by misclassifying you as an “exempt” employee. Simply put, an exempt employee is exempt from the right to overtime pay and breaks. If an exempt employee works for more than 8 hours per day or 6 days per week, they are not entitled to any overtime pay. Employers try to be sneaky by classifying employees as exempt and then paying them a straight salary.
Being paid a salary does not automatically qualify you as exempt, there are different criteria that must be met. For one, there is a minimum wage for a salaried employee in California. The current minimum wage for a salaried employee is $64,480.
Secondly, exempt employees need to be able to perform their job duties without much oversight. You need to be able to exercise judgment and make decisions over 50% of the time.
Here’s a hypothetical situation: Let’s say that you’re a security guard that earns $50,000 a year or about ~$24 per hour. You regularly put in overtime, enough to earn you an extra $15,000 per year. That’s only about 8 hours per week. Your job duties are to stand at a post, perform occasional patrols of the business’s property, and to report any anomalies to your supervisor. Your supervisor approaches you by saying, “Hey, it would be easier to make you salaried, then you won’t have to worry about filling out your timecard every week. It comes with a raise too”
Cool, now you’re being paid $58,240 per year. Your earning potential was just cut and they did this by disguising it as a raise for your base pay. In this situation are you exempt? NO!
Let’s take a look at your responsibilities. You’re instructed on where to stand post, what area to patrol, and who to report to. You aren’t performing this without oversight, nor are you exercising judgment or making any decisions.
You deserve every single cent of overtime that you work.
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