California wage and hour laws can be more complicated than many people might believe. This has often led to some workers not knowing if their rights have been breached while they’re at work. West Coast Employment lawyers have noted that there are a few ways that regulations can be broken in this capacity.

The most notable of these is a failure to pay the minimum wage and overtime. As any high-quality employment attorney will highlight, however, there are a few other breaches that may affect people. Chief among these are employers requiring employees to work off-the-clock, misclassifying them as independent contractors, or claiming that they’re exempt from wage/hour rules.

This means that employees will have to be informed about what the regulations surrounding proper payment are. There are a variety of factors that will play a role in this, such as overtime, the minimum wage in a particular city, and much more.

With each of the restrictions and regulations surrounding the California wage and hour are, many would be forgiven for becoming confused. There are a few things that every employee should be aware of before they consider meeting a wage and hour attorney to make a claim.

Exempt Vs Non-Exempt

There are several types of employees under California law, with these falling into exempt and non-exempt categories for wage and hour payment. While this may seem complicated, it can be much more straightforward than many workers may believe.

In general, there are three types of employees that are exempt from these laws: administrative, professional, and executive. For these workers to be eligible for this status, they must fulfill certain criteria. The first is that they must exercise independent judgment and discretion in how their jobs are performed.

Secondly, they must spend more than half of their time involved in creative, intellectual, or managerial work. Lastly is that they should earn at least twice the minimum wage for a full work week, i.e., 40 hours per week.

Several other employee groups may fall into this category, each with specific requirements. For example, teachers at either private primary or secondary schools who earn at least the lowest salary of their public school counterparts may be exempt.

Employees who earn at least half their wages from commissions or performance-related activities may also be exempt. This is only the case if they make a minimum of 1.5 times the minimum wage. Licensed surgeons or physicians who are primarily engaged in medical activities may also fall into this category.

If a worker doesn’t fall into any of the above categories, then they’re considered non-exempt from the wage and hour laws. This is also the case if they’re made to sign a contract stating that they’re exempt or if they’re paid a salary instead of an hourly wage.

Minimum Wage

Outside of independent contractors, all workers should be paid the minimum hourly wage, regardless of whether or not they’re exempt. The state minimum is $11 for companies that have fewer than 25 employees, while it’s $12 for those with 26 or more.

This is set to increase regularly over the coming years, as California looks to set its statewide minimum to $15 per hour by 2022. It should be noted that this is just the state minimum; many counties and cities have established a wage that may be much higher than this, although it depends significantly on where in California a worker is employed.

This means that each employee should be aware of their city’s specific minimum wage to ensure that they’re being paid appropriately.


California state law establishes a work week as 40 hours, which is broken into eight hours per day, five days per week. This means that any time worked above this will have to be paid at a higher rate, either at 1.5 times or double their regular wage, depending on their circumstances.

Should an employee work more than eight hours, but less than 12, then these should be paid at 1.5 times their typical rate. This is also the case for the first eight hours of the seventh consecutive day in a workweek. 

Wages will be paid at a double-time rate if an employee works more than 12 hours during a single shift. This is also the case if they have worked seven days in a row and have worked more than eight hours on the seventh day. These rates will apply to any hours worked, regardless of whether they were pre-authorized. 

Many employees may wonder whether a bonus is considered overtime pay. This can be the case as long as it’s a nondiscretionary bonus. These are contrasted with their counterparts in that they can be compensation for productivity, hours worked, or some other form of incentive.

Misclassification As Independent Contractors

The misclassification of employees as independent contractors is somewhat widespread across the country, with the IRS estimating that it affects millions of workers. While much of this can be the result of a simple error, many companies do so to reduce labor costs and avoid paying many applicable taxes.

While the distinction between these two types of employees is complicated, it’s recommended that every worker know at least the basics. An independent contractor is someone who provides goods or services as defined in a contract.

While this seems identical to an employee, there are several key differences. The most notable of these is that the contractor retains the right of control over how these products or services are delivered. This means that an employer has no control over how the work is done, other than what’s already been outlined in the contract.

Essentially, a contract will designate the expected outcome of the relationship, with many of the specifics changing from project to project. In this way, the contractor treats the employer as a customer or client and can have a variety of them at any given time. This means that an independent contractor is typically self-employed.

As a result, independent contractors are exempt from many California wage and hour laws. There can be a variety of factors that differentiate an employee from an independent contractor, with the IRS dividing theses into three distinct categories.

The first of these is behavioral, with the IRS noting that employers shouldn’t be able to control the practices of a contractor. Should training be provided to a worker, then this will signal that they have certain expectations, and may be a sign that they’re an employee.

Finances is the second category highlighted by the IRS. This is defined as to whether business aspects of a job are controlled by the payer. For example, independent contractors will have to purchase their tools and other supplies needed for the job, alongside other expenses.

Lastly is the type of relationship. Much of this is dictated by the contract itself, which lays out the benefits associated with the relationship, such as insurance, vacation pay, and much more.

Any worker who believes that their rights have been broken in the workplace should consider hiring an employment attorney. This is something that deserves a significant amount of thought while the decision is being made, as there can be several specialties within this.

While the majority of West Coast employment lawyers will be able to tackle the subject, workers should ensure that they hire a wage and hour attorney that has hands-on experience in the niche. By doing so, they’ll be able to better handle a case and develop strategies that should result in the maximum potential for success.