If you’re like many people, you’re aware that as a worker in the state of California, you have some rights – but you may not know exactly what they are or how to exercise them. This guide explains what rights employees have in California and what happens if your employer fails to meet them.
What Rights Do Employees Have in California?
Almost all California employees have specific rights – and even those who have fewer rights (such as exempt employees) still have some rights. Independent contractors have different rights than employees have, as well, and if you’re not sure exactly what camp you fall into, that’s okay; you can call our office and we’ll be happy to explain whatever you need to know.
However, employees in California are typically entitled to:
- Minimum wage
- Overtime pay
- Meal and rest breaks
Here’s a closer look at each.
Minimum Wage Rights in California
Employees in California are entitled to minimum wage. That’s the state minimum wage – not the federal minimum wage, which hasn’t budged more than a decade. The state minimum wage in California is currently more than double the federal minimum wage.
You need to know that employers are not allowed to pay you the federal minimum wage. They must pay you California minimum wage or your city’s minimum wage (whichever is higher). California’s minimum wage has been steadily increasing for several years. By 2023, all employees in the state of California will earn at least $15 per hour.
Overtime Pay Rights in California
If you’re a nonexempt worker in California, you’re entitled to overtime pay. That means if you work more than a standard workday or workweek, your employer is legally required to pay you accordingly. The following table outlines how much you should be paid if you work more than a standard workday or workweek.
|If you work…||You’re entitled to…|
|More than 8 hours in one workday||1.5 times your regular rate for every additional hour or portion of an hour|
|More than 40 hours in one workweek||1.5 times your regular rate for every additional hour or portion of an hour|
|More than 12 hours in one workday||2 times your regular rate for every additional hour or portion of an hour|
|More than 8 hours on the seventh day of a workweek||2 times your regular rate for every additional hour or portion of an hour|
There’s one exception: If more than two-thirds of affected workers agree to work up to 10 hours in one workday, provided that it’s within a 40-hour workweek, the employer doesn’t have to pay overtime for working more than 8 hours per day. This is called an alternative workweek schedule – but your employer can’t simply subject you to it. Again, more than two-thirds of affected workers must agree to it.
Related: Minimum wage disputes and unpaid overtime
What About Exempt Workers?
Exempt workers are not entitled to overtime protections. You can learn more about exempt workers in our Definitive Guide to Exempt Employees in California.
Meal and Rest Break Rights in California
You have the right to meal and rest breaks as a nonexempt employee. (Unfortunately, exempt workers are not entitled to these protections.)
Your employer must provide you with a meal break if you work more than 5 hours in one workday. Your meal break must last at least 30 minutes. You can agree to waive your lunch break if you won’t work more than 6 hours that day, but otherwise, your employer must give it to you. If you work more than 10 hours in a day, you’re entitled to a second 30-minute meal break, but you can waive it if you won’t work more than 12 hours that day. (Unionized employees and those with collective bargaining agreements may have different arrangements, though.)
Additionally, your employer must provide you a 10-minute rest break every four hours (or every substantial part of a four-hour block). If your shift is less than 3.5 hours long, you’re not entitled to a rest break. Your employer cannot require you to perform any work duties or to stay on-call during that time.
Related: How many hours can an employee work without a break in California?
Did Your Employer Violate Your Employee Rights?
Employees have rights in California that employers are not allowed to violate. If you believe your employer has violated yours by failing to pay you the minimum wage, failing to pay you overtime or failing to give you meal and rest breaks, you may need to talk to an attorney. Call our office at 818-230-8380 or fill out the form below to schedule a free (and confidential) consultation with an experienced professional who can give you the legal guidance you need right now.