California Wage and Hour Laws

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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California wage and hour laws are designed to protect an employee’s right to wages. California wage and hour laws expand upon federal Fair Labor Standards Act laws to ensure that the rights of California workers are protected. The California wage and hour laws set forth standards regarding minimum wage, overtime, and nonpayment of wages.

Who Do California Wage and Hour Laws Protect?

California wage and hour laws protect all employees, both full- and part-time, in the state of California. While it is true that an independent contractor is not considered an “employee” for purposes of the law, California law also prohibits employers from incorrectly classifying someone as an independent contractor in order to deny the employee his or her employee rights. In other words, just because your California employer calls you an independent contractor and says they do not have to pay you overtime does not mean your employer is in compliance with the law.

The Division of Labor Standards Enforcement is responsible for ensuring that employees are correctly classified. Under the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement’s rules, classification begins with the presumption that every worker is an employee, but that presumption is rebuttable. To prove someone is an independent contractor, a number of factors are reviewed to determine the level of autonomy enjoyed by the individual. The more separation and freedom the worker has from the employer, the more likely it is that he or she is an independent contractor.

It is also important to note that some employees are always exempt from the protection of certain California wage and hour laws. For example, certain executive, administrative and professional staff members are exempt from wage and hour laws regarding overtime and meal breaks, provided they are paid a salary and their duties require “independent discretion and judgment.”

What are California Wage and Hour Laws?

California wage and hour laws provide a number of protections for California workers:

Minimum Wage

  • As of January 1, 2008, the minimum wage in California is set at $8 per hour. An employee cannot waive his or her employee rights and work for less than minimum wage, and the same minimum wage applies to both adults and children legally eligible to work.
  • Tips earned may not be used as a credit towards minimum wage.
  • Employees not paid the minimum wage can seek enforcement through the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement or file a lawsuit for unpaid wages.


  • California law mandates that overtime wages be paid at one and’ times the regular pay rate for any hours over 8 hours worked in a single day, or for any hours over 40 hours worked in a single week.
  • Employees must be compensated at double their normal rate of pay for any hours over 12 on a single day, or for any hours over 8 worked on the 7th straight day worked.


  • California law mandates that an employee who works a 5-hour day is entitled to at least a 30-minute meal period, but employees who work for no more than 6 hours in a day can waive this meal period.
  • Employees who work for 10 hours per day or more must be given a second 30-minute meal period, unless their workday is 12 hours or less and the employee waives this right.
  • The meal period is considered an on-duty period unless the employee is relieved of all duties, and as such the employee must be compensated for the on-duty meal period at his or her regular rate of pay. On-duty meal periods are permitted only if the nature of the job prevents an employee from being relieved of duties.
  • If an employee must remain at the work site during the meal break, the employee must be paid his or her regular wage for that break, even if it is not an on-duty meal period.
  • If an employer does not provide an employee with the legally mandated meal period, the employer must pay one additional hour of pay at the employee’s regular pay rate for each day the meal is missed. This one hour of pay is considered regular wages and not a penalty, and so a three-year statute of limitations applies.

Payment of Wages

  • Wages must be paid at least twice during each calendar month. Employers are required to designate select days in advance as paydays and post a notice to employees regarding when payday will occur.
  • Wages earned between the 1st and 15th of a month must be paid no later than the 26th of the month, and wages earned between the 16th and the end of the month must be paid by the 10th day of the following month.
  • Any employee who provides the employer with 72 hours notice of his or her intent to quit must be paid all wages, including accrued vacation, at the time of departure.

What Can You Do?

If you believe you have a claim for unpaid wages, you may be entitled to back pay and penalties. The statute of limitations in California (the time period you have to file a claim) is 3 years for collecting unpaid wages, and 1 year for collecting penalties.

Getting Help

In addition to these rules, California provides a number of other wage and hour laws designed to protect employee rights in California. You should consult with an experienced California wage and hour attorney to get help if you believe your employee rights have been violated. Perry Smith is a wrongful termination and wage and hour lawyer in Southern California who can help. Perry Smith has obtained settlements for thousands of employees, and has been named by SuperLawyers as a Rising Star among Southern California employment lawyers. Contact Perry Smith today to get help recovering your unpaid wages.

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