Compliance Watch:
What are my rights as an hourly employee in California?

April 23rd 2024

Understanding your rights as an hourly employee in California goes beyond mere legal obligation; it’s a gateway to empowerment and self-assuredness in your professional path.

As you clock in and out each day, the compensation you earn for your dedicated efforts shapes your role within the workforce. However, the intricacies of these arrangements can vary significantly among different states in the US. You might find yourself pondering over what you’re entitled to and how you can assert your rights effectively.

This article is tailored specifically for you as an hourly employee in California. Our objective is to equip you with knowledge that not only safeguards your equitable treatment but also empowers you to proactively shape your work experience in accordance with the laws and regulations specific to your state.

This Article Covers

Defining an Hourly Employee in California
Wage and Hour Regulations in California
Rest Laws in California
Deductions, Benefits, and Protections in California
Termination of Employment in California 

Defining an Hourly Employee in California

What is Hourly Employment in California?

In California, an hourly employee is an individual who is remunerated based on the number of hours they dedicate to work during a given week. Unlike salaried workers who receive a fixed pay regardless of their weekly work hours, those on an hourly wage earn compensation proportional to the time they invest.

Hourly wage employees typically engage in distinct employment agreements with their employers, often relying on tools such as time cards or timesheets to meticulously record their work hours. The responsibility of determining the number of hours these employees contribute weekly lies with their employers.

The compensation for hourly wage workers hinges on the actual hours they spend working. Unlike salaried counterparts who enjoy predetermined pay, those on hourly wages have their earnings intertwined with their work schedule. Consequently, their income can fluctuate from one week to the next.

As an hourly wage earner in California, you are entitled to receive at least the minimum wage as stipulated by both federal and state regulations. While there are no rigid constraints on the maximum number of hours an adult can work within a week, specific guidelines oversee hourly pay when it surpasses designated weekly thresholds.

In California, distinct regulations dictate the minimum wage that employers are obligated to provide to their employees, and this is independent of the Federal Minimum Wage. As of January 1, 2023, the minimum wage for all workers stands at $16.00 per hour. Download U.S. Minimum Wage 2024 Poster now.

What are the Key Differences Between Hourly and Salaried Employees in California?

Here’s a comparison table highlighting the key differences between hourly and salaried employees in California:

Aspect Hourly Employees Salaried Employees
Compensation Paid based on the number of hours worked. Paid a fixed salary regardless of hours worked.
Minimum Wage Entitled to receive at least the state and federal minimum wage for each hour worked. Exempt from minimum wage requirements if certain criteria are met.
Overtime Pay Eligible for overtime pay for hours worked beyond 8 hours in a workday or 40 hours in a workweek. Double time for hours beyond 12 in a day. Typically exempt from overtime pay if they meet exemption criteria.
Work Schedule Compensation tied to the actual hours worked. Compensation remains the same regardless of hours worked.
Rest and Meal Breaks Entitled to rest breaks and meal breaks as per California labor laws. Same entitlement to rest and meal breaks as hourly employees.
Compensation Stability Income can vary from week to week based on work hours. Consistent income regardless of variations in work hours.

To learn more about California labor laws, you can access our informative guides on understanding your rights as a salaried employee in California and discover how to run payroll in California.

Wage and Hour Regulations in California

What are the Maximum Weekly Working Hours in California?

There is typically no upper limit on the number of hours an employee can legally work within a day. Nonetheless, according to California labor laws, non-exempt employees are eligible for overtime compensation if they work:

  • Beyond eight (8) hours in a single workday,
  • Exceeding forty (40) hours in a single workweek, or
  • Surpassing six (6) days in a single workweek.

Overtime compensation is calculated at one and a half (1.5) times the regular pay rate for employees. Any work exceeding 12 hours in a day is remunerated at a rate of no less than twice (2) the regular pay rate. Similarly, any work surpassing eight (8) hours on the seventh day of a workweek is compensated at twice the regular pay rate. Check out our guide on the calculation of overtime in California.

What is the Minimum Wage for Hourly Employees in California?

The current minimum wage in California stands at $16.00 per hour applicable to all employers.

Different communities within California have the option to establish their own distinct minimum wage levels, as long as they are not lower than the state’s established minimum wage. Certain cities and counties within the state have set their minimum wages above the statewide rate.  Here is a comprehensive list of City and County minimum wages in California. It’s important to note that these rates are subject to modification, so we recommend verifying with local authorities to ensure that you are working with the most current information.

The majority of California employees are required to receive compensation at or above the minimum wage per hour, although there are certain exemptions to this rule.

In situations where federal, state, and local minimum wage regulations coincide, employers are expected to adhere to the most stringent requirement that offers the greatest advantages to their employees. This ensures that employee compensation aligns with the highest applicable rates.

How Many Hours Qualify As Overtime and What is the Associated Pay in California?

According to California regulations, if an employee surpasses eight hours in a weekday or exceeds 40 hours within a workweek, they are entitled to receive compensation at a rate of 1.5 times their regular wage.

The overtime minimum wage in California is set at $24.00 (1.5x the standard minimum wage of $16.00 per hour). Please note that the minimum wage requirement can vary within different California cities. Learn more about these rates and California Labor Laws.

Further, in California, a standard workday is constituted of 8 hours. If an employee works beyond this 8-hour limit in a day or completes more than 6 consecutive days of work, their pay must be calculated as follows:

  • 1.5 times their regular pay rate for hours worked over 8 but not exceeding 12 on a single weekday, as well as for the initial 8 hours on the 7th consecutive workday.
  • 2 times their regular pay rate for hours worked over 12 on a single weekday, or exceeding 8 hours on the 7th consecutive workday.

Rest Laws in California

What are the Offered Meal and Rest Breaks for Hourly Employees in California?

As per California’s employment laws, workers are granted a 30-minute meal break after five consecutive hours of work. Nevertheless, this break can be waived if the workday spans less than six hours or if both the employer and employee mutually agree to forgo it. Furthermore, those who work over 10 hours in a single day are entitled to a second 30-minute meal break. This additional break can be provided if the total work hours surpass 12 and an understanding exists between the employer and the employee. If an employee’s duties aren’t relieved during the meal break, or if they’re required to remain on-site, the entire duration must be compensated.

Failure to furnish employees with meal breaks in California would result in a meal penalty, where the employer must remunerate an extra hour at the regular pay rate for each day an employee didn’t receive a meal break.

Certain situations warrant exceptions to rest periods, deviating from the standard regulations. Here are some instances and professions where such exceptions apply:

  • Employees working less than three and a half hours within a workday aren’t mandated to have a break.
  • Rest periods for employees in residential care facilities may be restricted.
  • Performers, like dancers, skaters, and swimmers, engaged in strenuous activities, are granted additional rest periods.
  • Employers of construction workers may stagger rest periods to minimize workflow disruption.
  • Crew members of commercial fishing boats must have a minimum of 8 hours of rest during overnight voyages.

What Laws Govern Time Off and Leaves for Hourly Employees in California?

In accordance with California’s regulations on leave of absence, employees are afforded the opportunity to take time off for specific short or extended periods without jeopardizing their employment status. 

California’s leave of absence laws are notably comprehensive and considerate, ranking among the most extensive in the United States. These laws are structured to safeguard employees who require time off for family emergencies, personal health matters, pregnancy, or to nurture a new child. Some of the key legislations encompass:

Deductions, Benefits, and Protections in California

What are the Laws Regarding Pay Deductions for Hourly Employees in California?

In most cases, an employer has the legal right to reduce an employee’s salary, as long as it doesn’t fall below the California minimum wage. However, if an employment contract specifies that an employee’s salary cannot be decreased, such an action would be considered unlawful. If an employer lowers the salary despite the contract terms, it may lead to a breach of contract lawsuit.

California labor laws don’t explicitly define the required notice period an employer should provide if they decide to lower an employee’s salary. Generally, it’s recommended that employers give notice of at least one pay period. According to the California Wage Protection Act, if an employer opts to reduce an employee’s salary, they must inform the employee within a week.

Employers are prohibited from decreasing an employee’s salary based on attributes such as race, religion, sexual orientation, gender, national origin, or disability. Generally, according to California regulations, employers are permitted to make lawful deductions from an employee’s wages in the following cases:

  • Deductions that are obligatory for the employer as mandated by federal or state law, such as income taxes or court-ordered garnishments.
  • Deductions that have received clear written authorization from the employee, intended to cover expenses like insurance premiums, medical dues, or other similar deductions that do not result in a reduction of the employee’s wage.
  • Deductions that have been sanctioned by a collective bargaining or wage agreement, specifically intended for purposes like health and welfare or pension contributions.

What are the Provided Hourly Employees Entitlements Under California State Law?

Certain employee benefits are compulsory according to California labor laws and federal regulations. Mandatory benefits encompass:

  • Family and medical leave: Firms with five or more employees must furnish up to 12 weeks of protected leave annually for medical purposes, childbirth or adoption, and qualifying exigency for active duty military and their family members. Firms must provide up to eight weeks of paid family leave for employees needing time off to care for family, bond with a newborn or adopted child, or for qualifying exigency related to active duty military and their family.
  • Paid sick leave: Employees are entitled to paid sick leave for addressing their own or a family member’s existing medical conditions, preventive care, or instances of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking. Employers must provide at least 24 hours (equivalent to three work days) annually.
  • Other obligatory time-off provisions: These include leave due to pregnancy-related disability, kin care leave, family military leave, bone marrow and organ donor leave, time off for school activities, time off for school discipline, jury duty leave, judicial leave, leave for voting, leave for election officials, military leave, civil air patrol leave, literacy leave, leave for drug and alcohol rehabilitation, and day of rest requisites.
  • California Continuation of Benefits Replacement Act (Cal-COBRA): Cal-COBRA necessitates businesses with two to 19 employees on a group health plan to offer COBRA. California’s notice criteria and premiums differ from federal COBRA.
  • Workers’ compensation insurance: Workers’ compensation offers compensation to employees in cases where their injury or illness is a direct result of or linked to their job. Additionally, workers’ compensation may cover medical expenses and provide benefits for both temporary and permanent disabilities.
  • Reimbursement for employee expenses: This includes remote work expenditures.
  • Retirement plans: This is provided through CalSavers.

What are the Provided Employee Protections Under California State Law?

Employees in California possess a range of rights established by state and federal law. Whether your organization is small or large, it’s important to be well-informed about the protected rights your employees hold if you currently employ or intend to hire workers in the state. Certain state-level rights encompass:

  • Equitable compensation: Employers are obligated to provide payment that meets or exceeds the state’s minimum wage requirements and includes overtime pay.
  • Paid 10-minute breaks: Employers must grant employees a paid 10-minute break for every four hours worked. Employees should receive compensation for each workday where their break isn’t authorized or approved by the employer. The Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) prevents employers from counting reasonable restroom breaks as rest periods.
  • Meal breaks: Non-exempt employees should be allowed a meal break of at least 30 minutes after a maximum of five hours of work. Employees who work for more than 10 hours within a single work period should be offered a second meal break of no less than 30 minutes. Meal breaks can be unpaid.
  • Workplace safety: Employers are obligated to maintain a secure workplace, addressing hazards, having a documented safety plan, providing safety training to employees, obtaining workers’ compensation insurance, and maintaining records of workplace injuries. Mandatory workers’ compensation insurance for workplace injuries is also enforced. 
  • Violations reporting: The right for employees to report any violation of their rights without fear of retaliation. Employees have the freedom to raise concerns about owed wages, report injuries or hazards, file wage claims, lodge various complaints with the state, and join forces with other workers to advocate for changes without facing employer retaliation.

Termination of Employment in California

What are the Termination Laws for Hourly Employees in California?

In California, the employment relationship between employers and employees operates within the framework of an “at-will” system. This signifies that either party can terminate the employment arrangement without providing a specific rationale, whenever they choose. Nonetheless, California has established specific guidelines for the termination of employment, including the prompt issuance of final paychecks and adherence to the recent mass layoff notification act, outlined below:

  • When concluding employment in California, if an employee has given a 72-hour notice of termination, the employer is obligated to immediately provide the employee’s final wages. In cases where the employee has given less than 72 hours of notice, the final wages must be remitted within 72 hours following termination. Additionally, any accrued vacation time must also be compensated.
  • For instances involving plant closures or large-scale layoffs, California mandates that employers with a workforce of 75 or more employees are obliged to furnish a minimum of 60 days’ notice to affected employees and local representatives. This requirement is applicable to employees who have rendered services for at least six months during the preceding 12 months. The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act also mandates notice for scenarios involving the layoff of 50 or more employees, imminent closure of a facility, or relocation within less than 30 days.

Should Severance Pay Be Provided to Hourly Employees in California?

Under California law, there is no obligatory provision for employers to offer severance pay to employees when their employment is terminated. Employees are advised to consult their employer’s guidelines concerning severance pay. If an employer provides severance pay plans in accordance with the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), (29 U.S.C. § 1001, et seq.), these plans are subject to federal regulations. 

Final Thoughts

In summary, having a clear grasp of your rights as an hourly employee is essential for confidently navigating the intricacies of the contemporary California workplace. Through a thorough understanding of the rules governing your employment, you can guarantee that your rights are upheld and safeguarded.

Given the ever-evolving nature of employment regulations, staying current with the latest advancements will provide you with the knowledge needed to make well-informed choices throughout your career trajectory.

Important Cautionary Note

This content is provided for informational purposes only. While we make every effort to ensure the accuracy of the information presented, we cannot guarantee that it is free of errors or omissions. Users are advised to independently verify any critical information and should not solely rely on the content provided.