Understanding California Wage and Hour Laws: Everything Workers Need to Know 

Every state in the U.S. has wage and hour laws, but California has some of the most extensive and employee-forward laws. While federal laws set a standard, California’s wage and hour laws go beyond that standard to further benefit workers.

There are many laws to protect workers from discrimination, harassment, exploitation, and other employer-related problems. Unfortunately, employees are generally unaware of these rights and protections.

Are you an employee in California? Then there are some wage and hour laws you should know. In this post, we have explained the California wage and hour laws to help you understand them better. Moreover, we’ll talk about employee rights and what to do if you believe your employer has committed wage and hour violations.

Common Wage and Hour Violations in California

Before we discuss the wage and hour laws in detail, it’s important to understand the common violations that many employers perpetrate.

Not Paying Minimum Wage

There is a legal hourly minimum wage which covers all employees working in the state of California.

Employers that fail to pay their employees at least this amount can be liable for back pay and penalties because they violated the wage and hour laws.

Failure to Pay Overtime

California Labor and Employment Law requires employers to pay eligible employees time-and-a-half for any hours worked over eight in a single day or over 40 in a single week. When the employer fails to pay overtime to eligible employees, it qualifies as a violation.

Not Providing Meal and Rest Breaks

The wage and hour laws in California make it mandatory for employers to provide meal and rest breaks to the employees, depending on their work hours. However, some employers get away with not providing meal and rest breaks in violation of the law because most employees are unaware of their rights.

Making Unauthorized Deductions From Pay

Making unauthorized deductions from an employee’s pay is another wage violation. If an employer makes deductions from employees’ pay without a valid reason behind them, then it qualifies as “wage theft” and the employer can be held liable for it.

Not Providing Accurate Wage Statements

Every employee, irrespective of their position in the company, has the right to receive an accurate wage statement that outlines their pay according to the employment contract. Providing inaccurate wage statements or not providing them at all is a violation of wage and hour laws in California.

Requiring Work Off the Clock

“Off-the-clock work” is a type of work employees do with their employer’s knowledge, but without pay or with less pay. Under California law, employers cannot require workers to work off the clock without proper compensation.

Asking employees to work off the clock is a violation of the law, and it can make the employer liable for unpaid wages, penalties, and fines.

Misclassifying Employees as Contractors or Otherwise Exempt From Wage/Hour Requirements

According to California law, independent contractors are not covered by wage and hour policies. In order to avoid paying them the benefits they deserve, some employers list their employees as contractors when they should really be classified as exempt or non-exempt workers.

Classifying employees as contractors or excluding them from wage-hour requirements violates the law in California.

Do you suspect your employer is not abiding by the state and federal wage laws? Contact Hershey Law to learn more about wage and hour violations and how you can get the benefits you deserve.

» More: An Overview of California Labor and Employment Laws

To Whom Do the California Wage and Hour Laws Apply?

California’s wage and hour laws only cover non-exempt employees working within the state. This means that exempt employees are not eligible to receive the benefits or protections mentioned in these laws.

There are two categories of employees:

Non-Exempt Employees

In California, non-exempt employees are those who are entitled to overtime pay and other rights and protections under state and federal labor laws. These employees are generally paid by the hour rather than a fixed salary and do not meet certain criteria for exemption from overtime pay.

Exempt Employees

Exempt employees are not protected by the wage and hour laws. These employees are generally salaried and meet certain criteria for exemption from overtime pay, such as job duties, benefits, and salary level.

There can be several types of exemptions, including:

  • Executive Exemption

This applies to employees with a primary duty to manage an enterprise, department, or subdivision of an enterprise. They must regularly direct the work of two or more full-time employees.

  • Professional Exemption

This exemption applies to workers that are licensed or certified by the state and are primarily engaged in work that is intellectual, varied, and creative. The job duties should require the exercise of discretion and independent judgment.

  • Administrative Exemption

This applies to employees that perform office or non-manual work directly related to management policies or general business operations of the employer or the employer’s customers.

There are several other types of exemptions that exclude employees from receiving benefits specified under wage and hour laws. 

Independent Contractors vs. Employees

According to the law, independent contractors and employees are two distinct types of workers with different rights, responsibilities, and legal protections.

Independent Contractors

The law considers independent contractors as self-employed, and therefore, they are not considered employees under wage and hour laws. Moreover, they are not entitled to the same wage and hour protections as employees, such as minimum wage, overtime pay, rest or meal breaks, and other benefits.

If your company treats you as an independent contractor, it doesn’t necessarily mean you are one. Sometimes, employers describe their employees as independent contractors to avoid paying payroll taxes and to avoid paying wage and hour benefits, such as overtime pay.

California law states that an independent contractor is someone who has agreed to provide/render a service to someone under a contract that specifies the result and pay.

For example, if a digital marketing consultant is hired by a company to bring website traffic and they sign a written agreement outlining duties and pay, but are not offered benefits, then the person will qualify as an independent contractor and not an employee.


On the other hand, employees covered by wage and hour laws are responsible for withholding taxes and other deductions from their pay, as well as paying their share of employment taxes, which is not the case for independent contractors.

If you are contributing to withholding taxes and deductions, and your company is still treating you as a contractor, it violates the law. You can file a lawsuit against your company for not providing the employment benefits you deserve.

Exempt vs. Non-Exempt Employees

Exempt Employees

According to California labor law, overtime rules are not applicable to exempt employees. As discussed already, they are generally salaried and meet certain criteria for exemption from overtime pay, such as job duties and salary level. These employees are not entitled to overtime pay for hours worked in excess of 40 hours in a week or 8 hours in a day.

Also, these workers may be exempted from other wage and hour protections, such as meal and rest breaks and minimum wage requirements, depending on the policies of the employer.

Usually, employees working in executive, administrative, and professional positions fall under the exempt employee category.

Non-Exempt Employees

Non-exempt employees commonly include retail workers, customer service representatives, and assembly line workers. Since they are paid by the hour, they do not meet certain criteria for exemption from overtime pay.

These workers are entitled to overtime pay for hours worked in excess of 40 hours in a week, or 8 hours in a day, and time-and-a-half pay for those overtime hours.

The California labor law also offers other wage and hour protections, such as meal and rest breaks and minimum wage requirements, to non-exempt employees.

Some employers misclassify non-exempt employees as exempt to avoid paying overtime, meal breaks, and other benefits. Now that you know whether you are an exempt or non-exempt employee, you can ensure that you are getting the right benefits and protections as specified in California labor laws. Reach out to a wage and hour attorney at Hershey Law if you suspect you have been misclassified.

What Are Employee Rights in California?

Every employee, irrespective of their title and role in an organization, should know about their rights. When you know your rights, you can ensure your employer doesn’t exploit you and withhold payment and employment benefits.

Here are some common employee rights explained in detail.

Minimum Wage

According to the Department of Industrial Relations, the new minimum wage in California is $15.50 per hour. This is applicable to all employers, irrespective of the size of the organization. Moreover, some cities and counties have higher minimum wages that must be paid.

Employers are required to pay fair wages to their employees and at least this amount for every hour worked. If an employee is paid less than the minimum wage, the employer can be liable for violating employment law and owe workers for unpaid wages and other damages.

Overtime Pay

California law requires employers to pay eligible employees time-and-a-half for any hours worked over eight in a single day or over 40 in a single week.

Employees that work for more than 12 hours in any workday and for all hours worked in excess of eight hours on the 7th consecutive day are entitled to receive double their regular pay rate per hour.

Meal and Rest Breaks

All employers must provide their employees with an unpaid 30-minute meal break for every five hours worked, as well as a paid 10-minute rest break for every four hours worked.

Paid Sick Days

Employees are entitled to paid sick leave under California law. Every employer operating in the state should provide their employees with a certain amount of paid leave that can be used for health and family reasons.

What to Do If Your Rights Have Been Violated?

It’s a common practice for employers to violate the wage and hour law in order to save on taxes and other benefits they otherwise have to offer employees. However, this violates the law, and you, as an employee, can take action against it.

Do you believe your employer has violated your rights? Here’s what you should do next:

Document the Violation

It is important to maintain a detailed record of anything pertaining to the suspected wage and hour violations. Note the dates, times, and any relevant information or evidence, including emails, text messages, voice mails, memos, or other documents that support your wage and hour claim.

Report the Violation to the Employer

Inform your employer of the violation and ask them to take action to correct it. Many employers in California have internal procedures for addressing employee complaints, and going through these channels can often lead to a quick resolution.

Consult With an Attorney

If things are not resolved internally and your employer refuses to correct the violation, you should seek legal help. A professional Los Angeles wage and hour attorney can advise you on the next course of action, such as filing a complaint against the employer with the right government agency and filing a wage and hour claim.

File a Complaint With the Right Government Agency

There are several state and federal government agencies you can reach out to for help. For example, you can file a complaint with the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) and the California Employment Development Department (EDD).

If the wage and hour attorney advises, you can even contact Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

File a Lawsuit

If all else fails, you may need to file a lawsuit in order to resolve wage and hour disputes. A lawsuit can help you recover damages and other remedies, such as back pay, unpaid wages, and other compensation.

Looking for a reliable lawyer in Orange County and Los Angeles, CA to assist you with your wage and hour dispute? At Hershey Law, we are a team of dedicated labor law attorneys that can help you with all the legal advice you need to file a lawsuit against your employer and recover compensation.

Whether you work for a huge corporation with hundreds of employees or a small business with much fewer employees, we are here for you! Call us at (310) 929-2190 for a free consultation.

What Compensation Can You Receive From a Wage and Hour Lawsuit?

The type and amount of compensation you can receive completely depends on the specific circumstances of the severity of wage and hour violations. For instance, the number of times the employer violated the law and the damages you’ve suffered due to the violations.

Our experienced lawyers at Hershey Law can help you recover the following damages in compensation:

Back Pay

This is the amount of money that you would have been paid if your rights had not been violated. It can include unpaid overtime, missed meal and rest breaks, and other unpaid wages.


You may also be able to recover interest on the back pay you are owed.


California law provides for penalties against employers who violate wage and hour laws. These penalties can be substantial and can include up to $100 per pay period for each employee who was not provided with accurate wage statements; $50 per initial pay period and $100 per subsequent pay period for each employee who was not paid the correct minimum wage; and more.

Legal Fees and Other Costs

You may also be able to recover attorneys’ fees and costs of litigation, which include the expenses of hiring an attorney, consulting expert witnesses, and other expenses associated with the lawsuit.

Is Your Employer Violating California Wage and Hour Laws? Contact Hershey Law for Help

Violation of your rights isn’t just unethical, it can also put a substantial financial burden on you. Plus, you are being deprived of the benefits you are entitled to receive, which is illegal.

Whether filing a complaint with EEOC or bringing a lawsuit forward against your employer, gathering evidence and proving your wage and hour claims can be complicated and challenging.

At Hershey Law, we will assist you throughout the legal process and take care of everything on your behalf, such as gathering evidence, filing the paperwork, negotiating a settlement, and representing you in court. Our wage and hour attorneys can also help you calculate the damages so that you can recover fair compensation.

Speak to our highly-qualified lawyers about your case and explore your legal options for resolving your wage and hour disputes.