California Wage & Hour Labor Laws

California wage and hour labor laws govern certain important aspects of the professional relationship between employers and employees, covering issues like minimum wage, hours worked, overtime pay, rest breaks, meal breaks, tip wages, and tip sharing/pooling.

Employees’ Rights under California Wage/Hour Law

Minimum wage

With a few exceptions, all California employers must pay employees, excluding independent contractors, the minimum wage. This minimum wage is set by the state’s wage and hour laws for hourly rates. 

The California minimum wage as of January 1, 2021, is

  • Thirteen dollars ($13.00) per hour for employers with twenty-five (25) or fewer employees, and
  • Fourteen dollars ($14.00) per hour for employers with twenty-six (26) or more employees.

The California minimum wage is scheduled to reach fifteen dollars ($15) per hour by 2022. 


Employees also have the right to overtime pay. Overtime laws only apply to non-exempt employees. Employers may not bypass overtime pay by requesting “off the clock work.”

Time and a half overtime

Employers are required to pay non-exempt employees “time and a half” overtime for work exceeding:

  • 8 hours of work in one day 
  • 40 hours of work in one week  

Example: If you work 10 hours a day for 5 days, the total will be 50 hours in one week. 10 of those hours will be “time and a half.”

Double time overtime

Additionally, California employers are required to pay non-exempt employees “double time” overtime for work exceeding:

  • 12 hours of work in one day 
  • 8 hours of work on the seventh day of a workweek 

Example: If you work for 14 hours in one day, the first 8 hours will be regular pay, 4 hours will be “time and a half,” and 2 hours will be “double pay.” 

Meal and rest breaks

Under California law, employers are required to provide non-exempt employees with scheduled meal breaks and rest breaks. 

Meal breaks

Non-exempt employees that work more than 5 hours a day must take a meal break of at least 30 minutes. If the workday is less than 6 hours a day, the employee can decline the meal break. Additionally, employees that work more than 10 hours are entitled to a second 30-minute break. 

Rest breaks

Under California law, employers are required to provide non-exempt employees with scheduled rest breaks. 

Employers are required to provide non-exempt employees with 10 minute rest periods for every 4 hours of work. However, employees who work less than 3 and a half hours are not entitled to a rest break. 

California wage/hour lawsuits

If your employer fails to pay minimum wage, overtime, double-time or fails to provide meal and rest breaks, you have the right to sue your employer. You are entitled to collect the following:

  • Back pay for unpaid wages
  • The unpaid balance of the minimum wage 
  • Additional pay for missed meal breaks and rest breaks
  • Attorney fees and litigation costs 

Wage & hour class actions in California

In a class-action lawsuit, a large number of employees whose rights have been violated can join together and sue the employer. A benefit of a class-action lawsuit is that the employer may be more likely to agree to a settlement. This can save a lot of time and speed up the process to compensation.

The California labor laws had many significant changes that went into effect on January 1, 2021. Here is a summary of just a few of the important changes:

Scheduled Minimum Wage Increases

A law passed in 2015-2016, SB 3, which schedules minimum wage increases through 2023. For employers with 25 employees or fewer, the minimum wage increases to $13 per hour, and the exempt annual salary level is $54,080. For employers with more than 25 workers, the minimum wage increases to $14 per hour, and the exempt annual salary level is $58,240.

Certain Workers to Stay “On-Call” During Rest Breaks

Security guards and certain safety positions in the petroleum industry remain on-call and on the premises during rest periods if they work under a collective-bargaining agreement and earn a certain amount. The hourly wage must be $1 more per hour above the minimum wage for regular security guards and 30% more than the minimum wage for petroleum facility safety monitors.

Expansion of the California Family Rights Act

The California Family Rights Act (CFRA) expanded to include businesses with five or more employees. Employees who work for at least a year (1,250 hours in the prior year) are allowed 12 weeks of unpaid leave with their job protected when they return. This leave may be for a serious medical condition of the worker or a family member or a child’s birth.

More Time to File a Discrimination Complaint

The time to file a discrimination complaint with the California Labor Commissioner increased from six months to a year.

 “Application-Based” Drivers and Others are Independent Contractors

Proposition 22 passed to make “application-based” drivers independent contractors and not employees or agents. This proposition overrules the 2019 Assembly Bill 5 (AB 5) for drivers working for DoorDash, Lyft, Uber, and similar services.

AB 2257 added many other exemptions for certain industries to automatically allow independent contractor designation for occupations such as fine artists, freelance writers, real estate appraisers, musicians, photographers, photojournalists, videographers, photo editors, translators, editors, advisors, producers, copy editors, illustrators, insurance underwriters, home inspectors, professional consultants and more. Consult with an employment attorney if there is a dispute about your status as an employee or an independent contractor.

COVID-19 Rules

Under AB 685, California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health can now issue a “Stop Work Order” to a business with a severe COVID-19 outbreak. For known COVID-19 exposures, the employers must notify all employees within one business day of the discovery of potential exposure risk.

Due to the pandemic, there is no 60-day notice required for mass layoffs, relocation, or termination of employees. The governor’s emergency order suspended this notice requirement and changed it to be “as much notice as is practical.”

SB 1159 expanded workers’ compensation to cover COVID-19 illness if the worker tests positive after 14 days of work and worked during the period of March 19 to July 5, 2020, or was working during an outbreak of COVID-19 at work.


If you think your employer is discriminating or using unfair employment practices concerning how you are paid, you may have a legal case. The labor laws are complex. Consult with an attorney who specializes in labor law if you think you have been paid incorrectly, have a workers’ compensation claim, or were not given the time off that you are required to have under the new laws.

Contact us to have your case heard and evaluated. One of our trusted attorneys will be able to help you get the compensation you deserve. CALL US ANYTIME (281) 475-4535 or fill out a consultation form here to start the process.

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