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A Guide To Overtime Laws in California

Like more than half of the 50 states, California has set its own minimum wage, which is higher than the federal minimum. As of January 1, 2017, California’s minimum wage is:

  • $10.00 (employers with 25 employees or fewer)
  • $10.50 (employers with 26 employees or more)

Overtime, Wage & Hour Laws In California

Beyond this comparatively high minimum wage, the state has instituted a number of laws ensuring workers are paid at fair rates for their labor. In fact, California’s labor laws are among the most progressive in the country.

Here’s a rundown of the most important wage and hour requirements in California:

Tipped Employees Entitled To Full Minimum Wage

While federal law allows employers to take a “tip credit,” effectively reducing their wage obligations to workers who earn more than $30 in tips every month, California doesn’t.

No matter how much you make in tips, workers in California who aren’t exempt from the wage law’s protections are entitled to at least $10 or $10.50 an hour, depending on their employer’s size.

Overtime Wages Calculated Daily & Weekly

Workers who are covered by California’s wage and hour law are entitled to overtime for:

  • any hours worked over 8 in one workday
  • any hours worked over 40 in one workweek

For these hours, employees must be compensated at one-and-a-half their “regular rate.” To learn how to calculate your regular rate, which isn’t always the same as your base wage, click here.

But if you work even longer hours, you’re entitled to more: for hours worked over 12 in a workday, employers have to compensate you at double your regular rate.

California is also home to a “one day rest in seven” law. Under this regulation, employees must be paid time-and-a-half for the first 8 hours of their seventh consecutive workday. Hours over 8 on that day have to be paid at double your regular rate.

For a detailed look at overtime in California, visit the state’s Department of Industrial Relations site.

Who Is Exempt From California’s Wage & Hour Protections?

Most employees in California will be covered, so it’s likely that you’re entitled to the state’s minimum wage and overtime pay we discussed above.

Minimum Wage Exemptions

For the minimum wage, there are a small number of valid exemptions:

  • workers who are the parent, spouse or child of their employer
  • People who are mentally or physically disabled

Workers with disabilities need to get a special license that allows them to be hired at a wage lower than the minimum. The license has to be renewed every year. Some nonprofits who employ people with disabilities can also apply for these licenses.

  • Learners

People just beginning employment in a field in which they have no prior experience can be deemed “learners,” but this exemption only lasts for their first 160 work hours.

Learners must be paid at least 85% of the state’s minimum wage (to the nearest nickel) while they’re exempt from California’s regulations. In 2017, that’s either $8.50 or $8.92 per hour, depending on the employer’s size.

  • Shepherds

Shepherds are entitled to a minimum monthly salary of $1,600.34. For 2016, that will rise to $1,777.98.

Outside of those particular exemptions, every other hourly worker in California is entitled to at least $9 per hour.

Overtime Exemptions

More workers will be exempt from California’s specific, and generous, overtime wage provisions. In general, these exemptions closely follow those made federal law in the Fair Labor Standard Act (FLSA).

Most employees who can be properly classified as “executives,” “administrators” or “professionals” are not entitled to overtime wages.

But before getting to a summary of the workers who may fall into those categories, it’s important to note that you have to make a monthly salary of at least $3,120. If you make less than that, or aren’t paid a salary, you can’t be considered an executive, administrator or professional, no matter your job duties.

Executives

Under California’s overtime law, executives:

  • are mainly engaged in the management of an enterprise or a department within that enterprise
  • regularly “direct” the work of two or more other employees
  • either have the authority to hire and fire employees themselves, or make real, constructive recommendations on personnel decisions
  • exercise “discretion and independent judgment”

You have to satisfy each of these criteria to be an “executive”; it’s all or nothing. If you don’t, but you’ve been classified as an executive anyway, you may be the victim of wage theft.

Administrators

In California, the definition of “administrator” is more nuanced than the one explained in the FLSA. Workers who are properly classified as “administrators”:

  • perform primarily office or “non-manual” work, but that work has to be directly related to the general business operations or management policies of their employer’s company
  • regularly exercise “discretion and independent judgment”
  • regularly assist the company’s owner directly, or assist another employee who can be properly classified as an “executive” or “administrator”
  • perform work of a specialized or technical nature that requires some additional training or experience, but only if they perform that work under “general supervision,” not the constant guidance of another employee
  • undertake special assignments or tasks, again only under general supervision

As for executives, each of these criteria have to be met for a worker to be considered an administrator.

Professionals

California’s laws are also stricter in their definition of “professional.” There are two types of professionals to consider: learned or artistic.

Learned professionals must either:

  1. be licensed or certified by the state of California and primarily engaged in the fields of law, accounting, teaching, medicine, optometry, dentistry, architecture or engineering, or
  2. be primarily engaged in “an occupation commonly recognized as a learned or artistic profession.”

To satisfy the first condition, you need to perform work that requires advanced knowledge in a field of science or learning. For most workers, an advanced degree is used as a yardstick of this advanced knowledge.

For the second criteria, you need to perform work that is “original and creative […] in a recognized field of artistic endeavor.” Your work must depend on invention, imagination or talent.

In addition, this sort of artistic work has to be mainly intellectual and varied; a large component of this criteria is that your work output is impossible to standardize in terms of time. For a composer, this might mean you can’t reasonably say: “it takes three hours to write a first movement, four to write a second” etc.

Finally, for either type of “professional,” a worker must regularly exercise “discretion and independent judgment.”

Who Else Is Exempt From Overtime Pay In California?

Most workers who are actually exempt in California will be classified as one of the three job types we just described. But there are other specific employees who won’t be entitled to overtime wages:

  • Some workers directly employed by the state government, or a city, county or district government
  • Outside salespeople
  • People who are employed by their parent, spouse or child
  • People participating in “national service programs,” like AmeriCorps
  • Some commercial drivers
  • Some workers covered by valid collective bargaining agreements, as long as those agreements provide for some sort of overtime pay and set the workers wage no less than 30% higher than the state’s minimum wage
  • People who make more than half of their total earnings from commission and make more than one-and-a-half the minimum wage
  • Taxicab drivers
  • Student nurses at a state-accredited school
  • Railroad workers who have entered into a collective bargaining agreement
  • Operators of rides at a traveling carnival who work full time
  • Crew members on commercial fishing boats
  • Movie theater projectionists (this has to be your only duty at the theater to make you exempt from overtime wages)
  • Small-market radio or TV announcers, chief engineers or news editors
  • Professional actors
  • Shepherds
  • Irrigators are not entitled to overtime, but only when more than half of their work in a given week was devoted to tasks related to irrigation
  • Babysitters under the age of 18 who who supervise minors in their employer’s home

Unless you fall into one of those categories, it’s likely that you’re entitled to overtime wages under California law.

Are You Being Paid What You’ve Earned?

Spotting a wage and hour violation, whether under federal or California state law, is difficult. But it can mean the difference between being fairly (and legally) compensated for your efforts and being stolen from. Familiarizing yourself with the most common wage violations can help.

Contacting an experienced attorney is an option, too.

The lawyers at WageAdvocates.com are not licensed to practice in the state of California. But we can help you understand your legal options under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, or recommend local counsel who may be able to assist you.

We offer a free initial consultation. Just call or fill out our contact form.

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Thank you! I worked a long time without proper overtime pay and Wage Advocates helped me get compensation."
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