Compliance Watch:
What are my overtime rights in California?

April 19th 2024

Understanding your rights concerning overtime is crucial to ensure fair compensation for performing work outside of normal hours and to confidently navigate employment regulations in California. Overtime regulations serve to safeguard employees from exploitation and help foster equitable working conditions.  

In this article we will delve into the nuances of your overtime rights, offering guidance tailored to the distinct laws and practices for the state of California. A range of questions will be addressed, enabling you to continue in your professional career equipped with key employment information. 

This Article Covers

Understanding Overtime in California
Common Questions About Overtime in California
Legal Working Hours in California
Overtime Eligibility in California
Overtime Payment Calculations in California
Receiving Overtime Payment in California
Violations of Overtime Law in California

Understanding Overtime in California

Is overtime pay mandatory in California?

In California, employers are required to pay overtime to all employees aged 18 or above, unless the employee is exempt. There are also exceptions for certain categories of employees, including domestic workers and some agricultural workers. More information on exemptions and exceptions from overtime can be found in this      California Overtime Laws article.

When do I qualify for overtime pay in California?

In California, a full-time workweek is classed as 40 hours and a full working day as eight hours; anything over this amount counts as overtime. There are three scenarios in which eligible employees qualify for overtime pay: length of shift, hours in a workweek, and consecutive days of working. Overtime comes into play for:

  1. Working more than eight hours, up to and including 12 hours, in a workday.
  2. Working in excess of 40 hours at the regular pay rate in a work week.
  3. Working more than six consecutive days in a single workweek (it is important for employees to be aware of their employer’s workweek, as it can vary).

How much is overtime pay in California?

In California, overtime is paid out at ‘time and a half’. This means that employees will earn 1.5 times their regular rate of pay for all hours worked over eight hours in a workday, 40 hours in a workweek, and on the seventh consecutive day of work in a workweek. For example, if the regular pay rate for an employee is $22 per hour, their overtime rate would be $33 per hour.

In addition, employees are required to receive double their regular wages for all hours worked in excess of 12 hours in a workday, or for more than eight hours on the seventh day of work in a workweek. Using the same example as above, the employee’s double-time rate would be $44 per hour.

Which laws govern overtime in California?

Employees in California have the right to get paid for the work they have carried out. Under both federal and state laws, employees are entitled to receive payment for working overtime, unless they are exempt. 

There are two main laws which govern overtime in California; the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and California Labor Code Section 510. When state and federal laws differ, the law which is more favorable to the employee will be applicable. Under the FLSA:

  • All employees, unless exempt, can receive overtime pay for every hour over 40 worked in a workweek.
  • They must receive, at the least, one and a half of their regular pay rate.
  • Overtime pay is not mandatory for work on weekends or holidays, unless overtime is worked on those days.
  • These rules are based on a workweek, which is seven consecutive 24-hour periods. Employers can establish the workweek for their employees, it does not need to align with the calendar week. There is no limit to the number of hours a day or week that an employee can work.

State laws in California offer more protections to employees compared to federal laws. Under section 510 of the California Labor Code:

  • Employees are entitled to overtime if they work more than 40 hours in a workweek, eight hours a day or if they work on the seventh consecutive day in a workweek.
  • Any employee who works over 12 hours a day or for more than eight hours on the seventh day of work in a workweek shall be compensated with no less than double their normal pay rate. 

Common Questions About Overtime in California

Do employers have to pay overtime in California?

Employers in California are legally required to pay overtime to all non-exempt employees who are at least 18 years old, or are 16 or 17 years old and legally allowed to work instead of attend school. The overtime pay must be at 1.5 times the regular rate of pay. Employers do not need to pay overtime to those exempted by law.

Can an employee refuse to work overtime in California?

In California, in most circumstances, employees cannot refuse to work overtime when required by their employer. If they do, they could face disciplinary action, including termination.

However, employees cannot be forced to work overtime if it breaches the conditions of a contract, if it would impact health and safety, or if it would be the seventh consecutive day of work in a workweek.

Can I take comp time instead of overtime pay in California?

Yes, if certain conditions are met, employees in California may request to take compensatory time, known as ‘comp time’ (paid time-off from work), instead of receiving overtime pay. The comp time provided must be equivalent to the overtime rate. This means that the employer is required to grant an hour-and-a-half of paid time off for each overtime hour worked. 

The conditions required to replace overtime pay with comp time are as follows:

  • The employee must work full-time, i.e. 40 hours per week.
  • A written request for comp time instead of overtime must be submitted to the employer.
  • The employee’s comp time must not exceed 240 hours.
  • A prior written agreement regarding comp time must exist between the employer and the employee. 

However, employees should be aware that they cannot be forced by their employer to take comp time as a replacement for overtime pay.

Can I get overtime pay in California without employer approval?

Yes, non-exempt employees in California are entitled to receive payment for authorized or unauthorized overtime. Prior approval is not needed, as long as the employer knew, or should have known, that the employee was working extra hours. This is referred to as ‘suffered or permitted to work’ under California wage laws. 

However, employees cannot deliberately prevent their boss from knowing about working additional hours. Furthermore, employees can be disciplined for working overtime without gaining prior permission.

Does California have double-time pay?

Yes, under California Labor Code, Section 510, employers are required to provide double-time pay, which is twice the regular rate of pay, in certain situations, including:

  • For all hours worked in excess of 12 in any workday.
  • For all hours worked in excess of eight hours on the seventh day of work in a workweek.

What is working ‘off-the-clock’ in California?

Working ‘off-the-clock’ is when an employee carries out work, with the employer’s knowledge, without receiving pay or compensation for this time. Off-the-clock work is often completed during hours which should be recorded as overtime work. Examples of off-the-clock work include:

  • Working during designated meal or rest breaks.
  • Pre-shift work such as preparing a worksite.
  • Post-shift work such as cleaning or closing a worksite. 

It is important to note that working ‘off-the-clock’ is illegal according to California wage and hour laws.

What are common ways employers avoid paying overtime in California?

It is crucial to be aware of the legal loopholes which can result in employees working extra hours without receiving overtime pay. Common ways employers avoid paying overtime rates include:

  • Requiring employees to perform ‘off-the-clock’ work: This could include preparatory tasks, answering phone calls, or post-shift tasks. Employers are legally required to document all work completed by employees and to pay them accordingly. It is illegal for employers to assign tasks outside of work hours without compensation.
  • Averaging hours worked: This is especially common when employees are paid bi-weekly or bi-monthly. For example, if an employee worked 48 hours one week, the employer could only schedule the employee for 30 hours of work the next week. The employer could average the two weeks and pay the employee for working two 40-hour weeks within that pay period, avoiding overtime pay.
  • Providing comp time: This practice involves employers giving their workers time off instead to prevent them from working hours that would qualify as overtime work. For example, employers might let workers take Friday off work if they worked a double shift on Thursday, so that their weekly hours worked will not exceed the limit of 40 hours.
  • Misclassifying workers as salaried employees: Those earning more than $1,280 per week in California can be classified as salaried employees. Such workers are exempt from overtime. Therefore, employers may misclassify employees who earn less than the required amount as salaried workers to avoid paying overtime rates. This is illegal under federal law.

Can you work seven days in a row in California?

According to California Labor Code Section 551, employees are “entitled to one day’s rest therefrom in seven”. This means that covered employees cannot work more than six days in a workweek. It is important to point out that this refers to a workweek, not every seven-day period.  As a result, an employee could work up to and including 12 days in a row without violating this law. For example:

  • It is legal for an employee to take Monday off, work the rest of the workweek; start the second workweek and not have a day off until Sunday. 

However, there are two main exceptions to this rule:

  1. Employees who work less than 30 hours a week are not required to have a rest day every workweek.
  2. Certain emergency services workers, and train maintenance workers, do not have to receive one rest day per workweek. However, over a month they must receive the equivalent of one rest day per workweek. This means they could receive all of their rest days in a month together. 

How many ten-hour days can you work in a row in California?

California has a special overtime rule, wherein employees can work four ten-hour shifts in a 40-hour workweek. This alternative workweek schedule must be legally valid. If an employee on such a schedule worked more than ten hours in a day or worked over 40 hours in a workweek, overtime pay would come into play.

What are full-time hours in California?

Full-time hours in California traditionally ranged between 32 and 40 hours per workweek. However, following the introduction of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the idea of full-time employment in California has changed. Under the ACA’s provisions, employees working 30 hours or more per week are classified as full-time workers. Individuals who work less than 30 hours per workweek are now categorized as part-time employees.

How many hours straight can you legally work in California?

In California, there are no federal or state laws which cap the number of hours that most employees can work in a day. Therefore, technically, individuals could work up to 24 hours per day. There are some exceptions to this rule:

  • Those under 16 years old are not allowed to work more than eight hours in a day when school is not in session, or more than three hours in a day when school is in session.
  • Workers in regulated industries, such as truckers, have a maximum number of daily hours which they can work. 
  • Employees with collective bargaining agreements may have limits to the number of hours per day permitted to work.  

Is overtime after eight hours or 40 hours in California?

California overtime provisions require that non-exempt employees receive overtime pay after both eight hours of work in a day and more than 40 hours of work in a workweek. However, the 40 hours of work can only include regular hours and not any daily overtime hours. This rule is in place to prevent workers from receiving two lots of overtime payment for the same extra hour of work.

Does working on the weekend qualify for overtime pay in California?

Overtime is defined in California as all hours worked over eight in a day, over 40 in a workweek and for up to eight hours of work on the seventh consecutive day of work in a given workweek. In addition, employees will receive double time pay for all hours in excess of 12 in a day or more than eight hours on the seventh consecutive day. 

Overtime pay is not based on the calendar day of the week but on the scheduled workweek. A workweek may differ as they are set by employers. Therefore, working on the weekend, either Saturday or Sunday, does not automatically qualify an individual to receive overtime pay.  

As it is common for Sunday to fall on the last day of the workweek, people often presume that working on a Sunday automatically entitles them to overtime pay. However, this is only true if it is the seventh consecutive workday of the individual’s workweek.

How many hours-off between shifts is required in California?

California labor laws do not specify a mandatory number of hours between shifts. Therefore, employers do not have to provide their employees with time-off between consecutive shifts. However, there are regulated industries which specify an amount of hours which an employee must take off before working again. Workers in unions may also have stipulations in their collective bargaining agreements regarding time-off between shifts.

What does ‘hours worked’ include in California?

According to California law, ‘hours worked’ is defined as “the time during which the employee is subject to the control of an employer”. Employees must be properly compensated for all time worked. In California, certain types of breaks and commutes are included in hours worked:

  • Meal breaks: Employees are entitled to a 30-minute meal break if they work more than five hours in a day, and a second 30-minute meal break if they work more than 10 hours in a day. If the employee is allowed to leave the worksite and can be completely off duty during this time, then it is not classed as work. However, if the worker must remain onsite or be available for duty during this break, then it must be included in hours worked. 
  • Rest breaks: Employees can take a rest break of at least ten minutes for every four hours worked. This time is included in hours worked.
  • Commuting: Travel time to and from work is considered as hours worked if the employee must travel to a job site which is far from their office, or if it is mandatory to use employer-provided transportation. 

What is the most hours a salaried employee can work in California? 

California does not have specific laws limiting the number of hours a salaried employee can work in a day or workweek. However, if a salaried employee is not exempt, they are entitled to receive overtime pay if they work more than eight hours in a day or 40 hours in a workweek.

What is the maximum number of hours an hourly employee can work in California?

Generally, there is no cap on working hours, meaning that hourly employees in California do not have a limit on the hours they can work in a day. Nonetheless, non-exempt employees must receive overtime pay for more than eight hours worked in a day, beyond 40 straight hours in a workweek, and for the seventh day of work in a workweek. 

However, if an hourly employee is part of a regulated industry, there may be a maximum number of hours they can work. Therefore, it is important for employees to check the specific requirements of their industry and the conditions of their employment contract. 

Overtime Eligibility in California

Who is eligible for overtime pay in California?

Most employees in California are eligible to receive overtime pay, unless they are exempt. This applies to both hourly and salaried employees.

To be eligible, employees must be at least 18 years old, or 16 or 17 years old but legally allowed to work instead of attending school.

Who is exempt from overtime pay in California?

There are a number of exemptions to overtime pay in California, meaning that overtime provisions are not applicable to particular groups of employees.

To be exempt from receiving overtime pay in California, employees usually must have both of the following:

  • A job in the administrative, professional or executive fields, requiring the use of independent judgment and discretion. This is typically the case in “white collar” jobs.
  • Earn a fixed salary at least twice the minimum wage in California for a full-time job (40 hours a week). In 2024, the minimum exempt salary is $66,560 per year (or $1,280 per week).

There are a number of other exemptions for employees in specific jobs, including: 

  • Executive, administrative and professional employees
  • Employees in the computer software field
  • Outside salespersons
  • An employee who is the parent, spouse, child or legally adopted child of the employer
  • Drivers and taxicab drivers
  • Employees covered by a valid collective bargaining agreement
  • Student nurses
  • Airline employees
  • Professional actors
  • Announcers, news editors, or chief engineers
  • Babysitters under the age of 18

A complete list of categories of exempt employees and the specific regulations that apply can be found on the official website of California Department of Industrial Regulations

Which employees are included in exceptions to overtime rules in California?

There are also exceptions to the California overtime laws. For these employees, special rules are applied to accordingly compensate them for completing overtime work, which differ from the normal provisions. 

Categories of excepted employees include:

  • All employees subject to a valid alternative workweek schedule
  • Healthcare employees on a valid alternative workweek schedule
  • Employees of a hospital or a care institution who live on the premises
  • Camp counselors
  • Ambulance drivers and attendants
  • Ski establishment employees
  • Live-in employees
  • Sheepherders or irrigators 

Further information about exceptions from overtime can be found on the California Department of Industrial Regulations website.

Can salaried employees get overtime pay in California?

Yes, salaried employees can receive overtime pay in California, as long as they are not exempt. 

To qualify as an exempt employee and therefore not receive overtime pay, a salaried employee must:

  • Have a role which mainly requires administrative, professional or executive tasks.
  • Carry out duties which require independent judgment and the exercising of discretion.
  • Earn a minimum salary of at least twice the minimum wage in California, based on a full-time or 40-hour workweek. In 2024, the minimum exempt salary is $66,560 per year (or $1,280 per week).

Overtime Payment Calculations in California

What is my regular rate of pay in California?

The regular rate of pay is the compensation an employee earns for their work. The regular rate of pay cannot be lower than the state minimum wage. A regular rate of pay can be calculated for all types of employees, including hourly employees, salaried employees, or those with piecework earnings or commissions. 

A regular hourly rate of pay can be easily determined for those paid on an hourly basis. However, to calculate this for other types of earnings can be more complicated:

Salaried employees:

  • First, multiply the monthly salary by 12 to calculate the annual salary.  
  • Then, divide the annual salary by 52 (the number of weeks in a year) to get the weekly salary. 
  • Finally, to reach the regular hourly rate, divide the weekly salary by the maximum number of regular hours you can work in a week (40 hours).

Piecework or commission employees (three methods):

  • The rate of the piece or commission.
  • The outcome of dividing the amount earned in a workweek divided by the number of hours worked. 
  • If working in a group, first calculate the group rate by dividing the quantity of pieces by the number of people in the group. Then multiply this rate by the number of hours an individual worked to calculate an individual regular rate of pay.

How do you calculate overtime in California?

In California, overtime is paid at one and one-half times the normal rate of pay. A non-exempt employee is eligible for overtime in California for working more than eight hours, up to and including 12 hours, in a workday; for working in excess of 40 hours in a work week, or for working on the seventh consecutive day in a single workweek.

To calculate the overtime pay for an employee, the following steps are required:

  • First, calculate the regular rate of pay for an individual employee. 
  • Then, multiply this amount by 1.5 to calculate the hourly overtime rate of an employee.
  • Finally, multiply the overtime rate by the number of overtime hours worked to total the amount of overtime pay an employee is owed.

Check out our guide on How to calculate overtime in California.

How is overtime taxed in California?

The amount of tax an individual pays depends on their tax bracket. The tax bracket you belong to is based on taxable income and filing status. 

Overtime is taxed in the same way as regular wages. However, if your overall income increases by a certain amount due to the extra overtime earnings, you may enter a higher tax bracket. As a result, your gross income will be taxed more, not your overtime pay specifically. 

The move to the higher tax bracket is only for that specific pay period where more money was earned.

Receiving Overtime Payment in California

How is overtime paid in California?

Overtime is paid in the same way that regular wages are paid in California. This may depend on the individual employer, but usually wages are delivered by a direct transfer to the employee’s bank account. Employees must also be provided with either a digital or paper itemized wage statement, known as a paystub.

When do I receive my overtime paycheck in California?

According to California Labor Code Section 204, overtime wages must be issued to employees by the payday for the next regular payroll period following the period in which the overtime wages were earned. 

Additionally, under the federal FLSA, workers must receive their overtime paycheck on the regular pay day for the pay period during which the wages were accrued.

Violations of Overtime Law in California

What if my employer refuses to pay me overtime in California?

In California, if an employer refuses to pay overtime wages, there are two options for recovering lost earnings:

  1. You can file a wage claim with the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (also known as the Labor Commissioner’s Office).
  2. You can initiate a lawsuit against your employer in court. 

In addition, if you are no longer employed by the company, you are able to claim the waiting time penalty under California Labor Code Section 203.

What is the penalty for failing to pay overtime in California?

For the first instance of failing to pay overtime in California, the penalty is $100 for each failure to pay an employee. Subsequent or any deliberate violations result in a $200 penalty for each instance of failure to pay an employee, along with 25% of the unlawfully withheld wages. A deliberate violation is one performed purposefully or knowingly rather than accidentally. In addition to penalties, the employer may have to pay the legal fees and costs of the employee.

How can I file a wage claim for overtime in California?

According to California Labor Codes 200 , 201 and 202, an employee or former employee is entitled to file a wage claim to recover unpaid overtime wages. Wage claims should be filed at the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement office (DLSE) nearest your place of employment or in the county where you performed the work. All information should be completed on the claim form to prevent delays in the process. Copies of any documents needed to support the claim should be attached to the claim form. Once the form has been submitted, the representative assigned to handle your case will be in contact by mail and the proceedings can continue, based on the specific circumstances of the claim.

A wage claim for unpaid overtime must be filed within three years of the alleged underpayment or non-payment, according to Code 338 of Civil Procedure. However, it is advised to file a claim as soon as possible.

Can employers retaliate against employees for making a wage claim in California?

In California, it is prohibited for an employer to retaliate or discriminate against an employee in any form, such as terminating their employment, for filing or threatening to file a wage claim. If such actions occur, the affected individual has the option to file a discrimination/retaliation complaint with the Labor Commissioner’s Office. Alternatively, they can pursue legal action by filing a lawsuit against the employer.

Learn more about California Labor Laws through our detailed guide.

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.