An Overview of California Labor and Employment Laws

Former Senator Robert F. Wagner once said, “Democracy cannot work unless it is honored in the factory as well as the polling booth; men cannot truly be free in body and spirit unless their freedom extends into places where they earn their daily bread.”

The declaration above captures the true essence of the major labor laws enacted in the United States over the past century. In a democratic country like America, the rule of law and the principle of equality must be upheld, irrespective of public and private contracts. 


While the federal government sets the minimum standard for employee protection, including things like minimum wage and anti-discrimination rules, states are free to write and set their own employment laws on top of the federal employment laws.

California is among the most employee-friendly states in the U.S., meaning the laws and provisions tend to be favorable for the employees. However, not all California employees are aware of the protections provided under the state labor and employment law; hence, they become victims of discrimination or fail to get the benefits they deserve.

Whether you are an employee at a large multinational corporation, a worker at a fast-food chain, or a receptionist at a mid-size firm, it’s indispensable to know the basic labor laws in order to protect your integrity at work.

This article covers an overview of everything you should know about California labor and employment laws and regulations.

At Hershey Law, we are your trusted California employment lawyers and we want you to know about your rights and the benefits you deserve.

Why Are Labor and Employment Laws Important?

Up until the early 1900s, the situation for average American workers was dangerous and intolerable. Menial wages, child labor, hazardous working conditions, and discrimination in the workplace were widespread, creating a difficult state of affairs for employees with no reprieve or recourse in sight.

Moreover, the worker’s unions did not have sufficient protections from the federal and state governments, making it impossible to bargain with employers for improved working conditions.

Thankfully, the introduction of labor and employment laws helped create better working conditions for employees. Moreover, these laws and regulations help protect the worker’s integrity at work and help them feel safe.

However, most employers – not all, but a majority – still exercise higher bargaining power over their workers. This unequal bargaining power gives some employers monopsony power, meaning they are able to set the wages for labor and make it difficult for workers to find new jobs.

The labor and employment laws have helped address the problem of unequal bargaining power and improve the employment relationship. The sole aim of these state and federal laws is to provide economic and social rights to the employees, such as minimum wage, maximum working hours, offered benefits, and more.

The Purpose of Labor and Employment Laws in California

The primary purpose of these laws is to help minimize, if not completely eliminate, the adverse effects arising due to the unequal bargaining power between the employees and employers and to improve conditions for the workers.

California labor laws and employment laws impose several legal requirements on employers irrespective of the organization’s size (although, they must have a minimum of 5 employees).

In a nutshell, California employers have no other choice but to comply with these laws, or else they may face civil suits and/or criminal sanctions from the state government.

Summary of California Labor and Employment Laws

Are you in a rush and just want to know a few important labor and employment laws? Here is a breakdown of some laws every employee should know about:

  • There are several requirements for overtime, minimum wage, rest or meal breaks, child labor, and breastfeeding breaks in California.
  • California employment law prohibits all employers from discriminating and retaliating against workers in various protected classes. Employers should also provide equal pay and pregnancy accommodations, allow wage discussions, and allow employees to access their personal files.
  • California’s labor and employment law permits pre-employment background checks and drug testing. However, the laws limit salary history inquiries in some cases.
  • After the termination of an employee, or when employment contracts end, employers in California must comply with rules regarding job references, mass layoffs, and other situations.
  • California’s labor and employment laws require employers to provide a safe working environment, including harassment prevention training and programs to prevent injuries. They should have procedures in place to follow if an employee experiences an injury at the workplace.
  • California has several laws that include employee pay and benefits, including health care continuation, wage deductions, temporary disability insurance, and pay statements.

An Overview of Labor and Employment Laws in California

Many employers and employees consider California a state with laws with higher proscriptive variance from the federal laws, including a higher minimum wage, wider anti-discrimination protections, greater sick leave allowances, and higher-paid family leave insurance.

Below in this article, we’ve classified some California labor and employment laws into different categories to help you learn about all important laws.

California Wage and Hour Laws

The state wage and hour laws include the minimum wage non-exempt employees should get. Moreover, the laws protect the overtime pay and the number of breaks guaranteed for every employee. This does not apply to an exempt employee or independent contractor.

The main provisions of the California wage and hour laws are listed below:

Minimum Wage 

While the minimum wage in California varies depending on several factors, such as the number of employees, there is still a minimum wage all employers must pay.

As per the Department of Industrial Relations (DIR), employers with 25 or fewer employees are required to pay $14 per hour to their workers. On the other hand, employers with a larger number of workers must pay at least $15 an hour.

Rest Breaks 

The law states that every employer in California should provide non-exempt employees with at least a 10-minute paid rest break for every 4-hour work period. The rest breaks must be given in the middle of the work hours or as per the practicality of the work period.

If in some instances, the rest periods are not permitted or authorized, the affected employees should receive pay for one hour for each workday.

Meal Breaks 

The non-exempt employees working in companies with their premises in California are eligible for at least a 30-minute meal break for every five-hour work period for each workday. A second meal break of at least 30-minutes should be provided to the workers if their work period is around or exceeds 10 hours each day.

Employees are also eligible to receive one hour of pay for each workday they are not provided with a meal break as per the law.

Breastfeeding Breaks 

Every employer in California must provide a reasonable amount of break time to employees that are lactating mothers and express a need to breastfeed their baby. When possible, the breastfeeding break time should run concurrently with any other break time, say a meal break already provided to the workers.

Employers are not obliged to pay for the breastfeeding breaks that don’t run concurrently with the existing breaks. Also, if the breastfeeding break seriously disrupts the employee’s operations, the employer can decide not to provide it. However, it should not affect the regular meal breaks of the employee.

As per the law, employers must relay the lactation accommodation policy in the employee handbook.

Overtime 

California’s labor and employment laws require employers to pay their employees for all hours they’ve worked, including those beyond the 8 hours in a workday and 40 hours in a workweek. Moreover, employers are required to pay more to those employees who have worked on the seventh consecutive day in a workweek.

Employers must pay employees overtime pay at one and one-half times the regular pay. For example, if the employee works 48 hours in a workweek, that’s 8 hours over the normal 40 hours. They get one and one-half times their pay for 8 hours in that pay period. Employees that do more than 12 hours of overtime after the regular 40 hours of the workweek should be paid double the amount of their regular pay rate per hour for those 12 hours.

Hiring and Recruiting Laws

California’s hiring and recruiting laws cover the processes partially or fully involved in hiring and recruiting employees. These include:

Credit Checks 

As per the Consumer Credit Reporting Agencies Act (CCRAA), California employers have the right to perform credit checks only for specific positions, such as positions that involve handling the company’s finances.

However, it is mandatory to let the applicants know that credit checks will be performed on their profiles. The employers must also notify the applicants about the adverse effects of any credit checks.

Drug Testing 

California law allows for the drug testing of job applicants. However, employers must provide all applicants with a notice of the drug testing requirement. An employer cannot perform drug testing checks on job applicants that don’t agree to the notice. However, hiring such applicants or not entirely depends on the employer’s discretion.

Criminal Checks 

California has strong protection over people with criminal records. Employers are not allowed to do a criminal check before a job offer has been sent. Only then, a criminal check will be allowed.

Once a criminal check is complete, employers should avoid certain types of criminal histories when making hiring decisions; applicants have solid grounds to file a lawsuit against the employer if discriminated against. The employers must not consider an arrest as a reason for not hiring an applicant if it did not result in a conviction.

Diversity, Equal Employment Opportunity, and Employee Relations Laws

This category of labor and employment laws in California includes accommodations for workers depending on specific conditions, equal pay, fair employment practices, and more.

Pregnancy, Religious, and Disability Accommodations  

The Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) requires employers in California to provide reasonable accommodations to employees that are pregnant or have some qualified disabilities.

Moreover, the FEHA requires employers to provide religious accommodation to their employees explicitly. It is a violation for any employer within California to fail to provide these accommodations to their workers.

However, employers that prove or show a significant difficulty, such as a lack of funds to prove the undue hardships, may be exempted.

Fair Employment Practices 

As per the FEHA, employers in California with more than five employees are prohibited from discriminating against any worker in the terms and conditions of the employment. There are several protected characteristics that employers cannot discriminate against; else, it may be considered a violation.

Some of these characteristics include:

  • Color and race
  • Religion
  • Country of origin or nationality
  • Medical conditions such as pregnancy and disability
  • Age and sexual orientation
  • Political beliefs

Employers cannot use these grounds to discriminate against any employee or applicant. The FEHA also prohibits employers from retaliation against an employee who opposes unlawful practices within the office premises or reports against them.

Equal Pay 

Every employee working in California has the right to receive equal pay that other employees of the same rank receive. As per the law, it is a violation if an employer fails to pay a specific group of employees with the wage they deserve because of factors such as their color, race, or background.

However, the pay can differ depending on other factors like merit, education, training, experience, and more. To avoid any penalties, the employer must be able prove the difference in the employee’s salary matches the difference in experience, education, etc., if the authorities or the court of the law asks.

Whistle-blower Protection 

California employment law protects the rights of whistle-blowers, and it can be a violation if the employer takes an undefined action against such employees.

Any employer in California may not enforce, make, or adopt any rule that prevents its employees from being a whistle-blower. Also, an employer may not retaliate if a worker is a whistle-blower or refuses to participate in an unlawful activity that’d result in discrimination against other employees or violates state or federal laws.

Note: 

There may be some overlapping between state and federal law regarding whistle-blower protection. The law that offers employees the greatest benefits or rights will generally apply in such incidents.

Are you a whistle-blower and a victim of undefined termination from your job or a pay cut? Contact the employment attorneys at Hershey Law and we’ll help get fair compensation for loss of wages and emotional suffering.

Leaves of Absence and Time Off Laws

California labor laws also protect the rights of the employees when it comes to taking leaves of absence or time off due to several protected reasons.

Family and Medical Leave 

As per the California Family Rights Act (CFRA), employers operating with 5 or more employees must provide eligible employees with up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave within 12 months from the date the employee has joined.

The reasons for the job-protected leave could be the birth or adoption of a child, serious health issues of a covered family member, or other circumstances.

The CFRA and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) run parallel to each other when it comes to providing employee benefits, but there are some areas in which they differ, including what is considered a serious health issue and how close the relationship of the sick family member is to be eligible.

At Hershey Law, our lawyers have ample knowledge of CFRA and FMLA leaves laws, and we can help you if your employer is not issuing you leaves or is not promoting you because of the leaves (permitted by law) you took. 

Paid Sick Leave 

As per the Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act (HWHFA), eligible workers may apply for and take paid sick leave for several reasons, such as when they face a serious health issue or any other covered family member experiences medical issues (including existing health conditions).

Employees can also take a paid sick leave to provide preventive care to covered family members such as parents, spouses, and kids. Moreover, employees who are victims of domestic violence or sexual assault can apply for sick leave when they obtain medical, legal, and social services.

Besides those listed above, numerous other California labor and employment laws safeguard employees’ integrity and protect their rights at work. Please speak to our labor law experts for more information.

Hershey Law: The Best Lawyers for California Employees

Your job is more than just a source of income, as it’s a major part of your life. If you have been a victim of unexplained demotion, unpaid wages, or wrongful termination, it’s time to take action against it with the help of attorneys knowledgeable in California labor and employment laws.

At Hershey Law, we are a team of fearless and experienced employment lawyers that can help you file a lawsuit against any employer that breaches any of the labor laws, no matter how big or small the company. Call us today to discuss your case at 310-929-2190 or contact us online.