10 Frequently Asked Questions About California Labor Laws

California has some of the most protective labor laws in the nation. Especially in recent years, state laws have sought to expand workers’ rights and prevent workers’ from being taken advantage of by greedy employers or corporations. However, not all employers abide by these laws. Because some of the laws have changed this year, some employers and many workers might not be aware of the changes, and it is even more likely that wage & hour violations will occur.

You deserve to be paid for every single minute you spend working for someone else. You have legal rights, and it’s extremely important that you know about them so you can defend them if necessary. At Southern California Attorneys, A.P.C., we have dedicated our careers to advocating for wronged workers whose employers haven’t paid them according to California labor laws. We are intimately familiar with state laws, employee rights, and paths of recourse that employees have to recover compensation for unpaid and underpaid wages they rightfully should have earned in the first place! Because we have handled numerous wage & hour cases, we know that many workers don’t know their rights and have many questions when it comes to being paid fairly.

Here are 10 of the most frequently asked questions we receive about California labor laws!

  1. Do wage and hour laws apply to undocumented workers?

Yes. It’s important for you to know that despite what you may have been led to believe or what you fear, your employer does NOT have the right to pay you less just because you are undocumented.

Immigrants are the group most victimized by employers, and in California, undocumented workers make up a large percentage of the workforce (1.75 million, as of recent estimates). However, the Fair Labor Standards Act (federal labor law) gives non-citizens the right to be paid fairly, to receive a minimum wage, to receive overtime pay, and to have all of the other rights as citizens. Employers are not permitted to intimidate or threaten undocumented workers, and the U.S Department of Labor does not require wage theft victims to share their immigration status when they file a complaint. Complaints will be reviewed and addressed accordingly, regardless of who is filing.

If you are an undocumented immigrant, attorney-client privilege can protect you as well; you can speak to a lawyer and learn about the legal implications of filing a wage & hour lawsuit against your employer without fearing deportation or other negative immigration consequences.

  1. What is the new minimum wage in California?

As of January 1, 2022, the California minimum wage increased to $15.00 per hour for employees of companies with 26 or more employees and to $14.00 per hour for employees of companies with 25 or fewer employees. This is much higher than the federal minimum wage, which is $7.25 per hour.

However, different counties and cities within the state of California have different minimum wages, some being higher than $15.00 per hour. California labor laws state that non-exempt employees have the right to be paid the highest minimum wage applicable based on where they work. (If you work in West Hollywood, for example, you should be paid $17.24 an hour.)

  1. Is minimum wage different in California for tipped employees?

No, it’s not! In other states, employers can pay employees less than minimum wage if the employees earn enough in tips to make up the difference. This is known as a “tip credit”, and it is an illegal practice in California. You are entitled to be paid at least the minimum wage for the county in which you work and then be paid your tips on top of that.

  1. Does my employer have to pay me overtime?

If you are a non-exempt employee, your employer is legally required by California labor laws to pay you for overtime. Non-exempt employees are those who receive hourly pay and whose employers have discretion over the duties they perform (as opposed to exempt employees or independent contractors). If you are classified as non-exempt, you should be paid one-and-a-half times your regular rate of pay when you work more than 8 hours in a single workday, more than 40 hours in a single workweek, or more than 6 consecutive days in a single workweek. You should be paid double your regular rate of pay when you work more than 12 hours in a single workday or more than 8 hours on the 7th consecutive day in a workweek.

  1. How long does my employer have to correct my paycheck if they made a mistake?

Employers in California must make payroll at least twice every month, within 10 days of the last pay period ending. Any mistakes or unpaid wages must be paid in the next paycheck, by the next pay period, or else your employer is technically paying you late and could face penalties.

  1. Do I get paid if I get fired?

Yes! California is an “at-will” state. This means that your employer can fire you for any reason that isn’t discriminatory. They can’t fire you because of your race, your sex, your age, etc., but they can fire you because they don’t like the way you are performing your job or because they don’t like your personality. However, if they terminate your employment, California labor laws require them to pay you final pay for all of your outstanding wages - including for remaining hours, bonuses, unused vacation time (if vacation time was a part of your employment contract), commission pay, etc. - within 24 hours from when they fire you. They must pay you promptly whether or not they had cause to fire you.

If they fail to pay you within 24 hours, they need to pay you what is called a “waiting time” penalty, which is equal to one day’s wages for every day of late payment up to 30 days. (There are a few exceptions to the 24 hour standard, including seasonal worker layoffs, motion picture industry worker layoffs, and oil drilling worker layoffs; if you work in one of these industries, you should still get paid, but your employer may have more time to do so.)

  1. How many meal or rest breaks am I supposed to have during a shift?

It depends how long your shift is and what type of employee you are.

California labor laws state that employees who work over 5 hours in a day are entitled to 1 30-minute meal break. But if the employee isn’t working over 6 hours that day, they can waive their right to the meal break. If employees are working over 10 hours in the day, they are entitled to a second 30-minute meal break. However, if the employee didn’t waive the first meal break, and their workday won’t be longer than 12 hours, they can waive the second meal break.

California labor laws also state that employees are entitled to 1 10-minute rest break every four hours if they are working more than 3.5 hours during the day; the rest breaks will occur in the middle of the employee’s shift, when practical. These rest breaks are counted as time worked and must be paid (they must count towards your total time worked).

It’s important to note that these laws only apply to you if you are a non-exempt employee. If you are an exempt employee, or an independent contractor, you aren’t entitled to meal and rest breaks. Also, if you are a unionized employee under a collective bargaining agreement, these laws may not apply to you.

  1. If I work remotely, do wage & hour laws apply to me?

Yes, they do, but the extent to which they do depends on the type of employee you are classified as.

For example, according to California labor laws, all remote workers should be reimbursed for work expenses incurred from home (such as if your employer requires you to purchase your own computer, desk, computer camera, etc. - even if they require you to use your cell phone for calls). All remote workers are also entitled to workers’ compensation insurance benefits that can be sought if an injury occurred while working from home.

Your boss shouldn’t be able to text you and ask you to do things outside of normal work hours; if you are an exempt employee or independent contractor, you don’t get overtime pay, but if you are a non-exempt remote employee and your boss does this, this should count towards your overtime hours. Non-exempt employees are still entitled to the same meal and rest breaks detailed above.

Minimum wage is another consideration when you work remotely; if you are a non-exempt employee working in a different county in California than your company is located in, you are entitled to be paid the minimum wage of your county, if it’s higher.

  1. Can my employer fire me for taking legal action to make them pay me correctly?

No. California has something known as “retaliation” laws that prevent employers from taking any negative action against employees - including firing them, demoting them, refusing them promotions, or harassing them - if they file a wage & hour complaint for unpaid or underpaid wages. Specifically, Labor Code section 98.6 protects employees who want to file or threaten to file a claim. If your employer does fire you or take retaliatory action against you, it is illegal, and you could receive penalties up to $10,000 or more.

  1. How much does hiring a wage & hour lawyer cost?

Most California wage & hour lawyers charge on a contingency fee basis, and our firm does as well! This means that you don’t have to pay upfront. If we aren’t able to win your case and recover compensation for you, you don’t have to pay our legal fees. If we do win, your employer will likely be required to pay our legal fees in the resulting settlement, or our fees will come as a percentage of the settlement awarded. Either way, you will not have to pay anything out of your own pocket or before the outcome of your case has been decided! Many employees have a misconception that retaining legal representation will be too expensive for them or won’t be worth what they will recover, but that’s not true; quality legal representation is available to all workers, regardless of their socioeconomic status or ability to pay!

If you believe that your employer has withheld wages from you and has violated California labor laws, contact Southern California Attorneys, A.P.C. to schedule a free consultation and discuss your options with our experienced, aggressive wage & hour lawyers. We’re on your side, and we can protect your future! Call now.