Your Right to Wages under California Law

California law provides a number of protections to hourly employees:

Minimum wage: Covered employers must comply with minimum wage requirements under both California and federal law. However, the California minimum wage is currently higher than the federal minimum wage. After January 1, 2008, the minimum wage in California is $8 per hour. Note that some cities, like Los Angeles, require employers contracting with the city to pay still higher minimum wages under so-called “living wage ordinances.” Any employee who receives less than the legal minimum wage is entitled to receive the difference between the minimum wage and the wage paid by their employers.

Overtime wage: Under California law, an employer must generally pay time-and-a-half an employee’s regular hourly rate for hours worked in excess of 40 hours per week or more than 8 hours per day, and double the regular rate for work in excess of 12 hours per day or in excess of 8 hours on the seventh consecutive day of work in any workweek. “White collar” employees (executive, administrative or professional employees) are generally not entitled to receive overtime pay. Employees who do not receive overtime wages due them may sue their employers for the deficiency.

Meal breaks: Under California law, every hourly employee who works more than 5 hours during a single workday is entitled to receive an uninterrupted, unpaid 30-minute meal break, unless the employee works less than 6 hours, in which case the employee may voluntarily waive the meal break. If an employee works more than 10 hours, the employee is also entitled to a second 30-minute meal break. Once again, the employee can voluntarily waive the second meal break if he or she works more than 10 but less than 12 hours in any given day. An employer that does not give its employees enough time and flexibility to take 30-minute meal break is in violation of the law and must pay 1 hour of pay to each of its employees for each missed meal break.

Rest breaks: California hourly employees are entitled to take 10-minute paid rest breaks every 4 hours, with the rest break scheduled whenever possible in the middle of this block of time. The only exception is if an employee works a total of less than 3 and ½ hours, in which case a rest break need not be provided. Similar to the remedy for missed meal breaks, any employer that does not give its employees 10-minute rest breaks every 4 hours must pay 1 hour of pay to each of its employees for each missed rest break.

Pay for all hours: An employer must generally pay an hourly employee for all time that the employer asks or permits an employee to work. It is illegal under California law for employees to “work off the clock.” Consequently, an employee who starts work early or leaves late is entitled to be compensated for all of his or her time, even if the additional time was not “authorized” by the employer. Similarly, an employer must generally compensate employees for time spent waiting or traveling while under the employer’s control. An employee who is not compensated for such time may sue his or her employer to recover such compensation.

Payment of final wages: An hourly employee who is fired by his or her employer is entitled to receive immediate payment of the final wages due the employee even if the employee is not fired on a regular payday. Likewise, an employee who quits is entitled to receive his or her final wages within 72 hours of the employee notifying the employer that he or she is quitting. An employee who does not receive his or her final wages on a timely basis is entitled to receive 1 day of wages for each day that the employer is late up to a maximum of 30 days.

Accurate pay stubs: Each time that an hourly employee is paid, he or she is entitled to receive an accurate itemized pay stub or statement showing such things as the amount of time worked by the employee during the pay period and the applicable wage rate for each hour worked. If an employer fails to provide an accurate pay stub, the employer must pay $50 to the employee for the first violation and $100 to the employee for each subsequent violation, up to a maximum of $4,000 per employee.

Work-related expenses: Under California law, an employer cannot force its employees to defray expenses that should be borne by the employer as part of its business. Consequently, employers are generally required to pay for uniforms, protective clothing, steel-toed work shoes, equipment and tools, and the costs of maintenance and upkeep of these items. If an employee must use his or her own car or cell phone in order to carry out the employer’s work, the employer must likewise reimburse the employee. An employee who is forced to bear these work-related expenses may recover such expenses from the employer.

This list is by no means exhaustive. It simply identifies some of the most common areas where employers commonly fail to provide necessary wages or other benefits to employees. Employees who have suffered any of these damages should consult Salehi & Associates for an in-depth evaluation of their rights.