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As of Jan. 1, 2007, California employers must pay a state minimum wage of $7.50 per hour, which increases to $8 per hour on Jan. 1, 2008. The minimum wage applies to all workers except:

  • Outside salespeople.
  • Parents, spouse and children of the employer.
  • Apprentices.
  • Mentally or physically disabled employees at certain nonprofit corporations.
  • Sheepherders. (Their minimum wage is set at $1,200 per month.)
  • Most workers not covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

Unlike in many other states, 18-year-old workers are entitled to earn the full state minimum wage. The only exception: You can pay 85 percent of the minimum wage to “learners,” defined by law as those working in their first 160 hours of employment in occupations in which they have no previous experience.

Note: California has no tip credit. That means employers may not count employees’ tips as a credit toward their obligation to pay them the minimum wage. State law requires that such employees receive the minimum wage plus keep any tips left for them by patrons of the business.

California employers must pay nonexempt workers one and one-half times their regular hourly wage for each hour worked over 40 in one week or over eight hours in one day. For all hours worked in excess of 12 hours per day (or eight hours on the seventh consecutive day of work), you must pay them double their hourly wage.

You may use an alternative workweek schedule of four 10-hour days or three 12-hour days without having to pay overtime. (This requires a formal agreement voted on by the affected employees.) Also, the law generally allows you to make overtime mandatory.

Note: The federal FLSA requires overtime pay at one and one-half times the hourly rate for hours worked beyond 40 per week, but not for hours worked beyond eight in one day. To review and compare the FLSA’s wage-and-hour regulations, go to www.dol.gov/flsa.

Rest periods

You must allow nonexempt employees to take a 10-minute break for every four hours worked. Ideally, rest periods should occur in the middle of the four-hour work period.

Rest periods may not be combined with meal periods, nor can you use them to allow employees to arrive 10 minutes late for work or leave 10 minutes early.

Employers that fail to comply with the rules must pay employees for an additional hour of work for each day when they didn’t provide a break.

Meal periods

California employees are entitled to a 30-minute meal period if they work more than five hours per day. The only exception: If the employee works six hours or less, the employer and employee can agree to waive the meal period.

Employees who work 10 hours may take two meal breaks, although the employer and employee may agree to waive the second meal if the person works less than 12 hours that day. Under no circumstances must an employee work more than 10 hours without at least one meal break.

As with rest breaks, employees who were denied meal breaks may sue and receive an hour’s pay for any missed meal break. Recently, the California Supreme Court ruled that employees may sue for missed breaks for up to three years after the alleged violation.

Caution: Make sure employees are totally relieved of duty during meal breaks. Otherwise, you must pay them for that time.

Reporting-time pay

If employees report to work but you happen to have no work for them to do, you still must pay them a certain amount: generally, a half-day’s pay if they show up as scheduled.

Example: An employee reports for a normal eight-hour day, but you have only one hour of work. You must pay the person for four hours even though he or she worked only one hour. For time-accounting purposes, only the hour worked counts as time worked, but the employee receives four hours’ pay. If you call the worker back into work a second time on the same day, you must pay him or her for at least two hours’ work. 

Excerpted from California's 10 Most Critical Employment Laws, a special bonus report available to subscribers of HR Specialist: California Employment Law.





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