California’s wage and hour laws are notorious for being quite technical and complicated and leaving employers perplexed and overwhelmed in many instances. In most cases, California’s standards are much tougher (i.e., protective of employees) than other states, and even federal standards. The key to success in managing these requirements (aside from a good understanding) is accurate record-keeping. This gives employers the best chance of minimizing the risk that they might face claims by employees for violations of the various wage and hour laws, or if an employee does file a claim, accurate records will allow the employer to maintain a good defensible position.
First, employers must determine if their employees are “exempt” or “non-exempt,” which in turn determines whether their employees will be entitled to “overtime” pay for time worked beyond eight hours in a day or 40 hours in a week. An employee is exempt only if they meet certain requirements, discussed in greater detail in the “Employee Exemptions and Classifications” section. Some employers may even have “flexible workweek” arrangements which may alter their obligations to pay overtime.
Employers must also make sure that they pay the current minimum wage, or living wage, which may even vary from city to city. In addition, employers must be familiar with the requirements for rest periods and meal periods. Failure to provide meal and rest periods can result in penalties for employers. Even the most seemingly basic tasks, such as issuing paychecks, carry strict rules and regulations with regard to timing and content. Employers should also remember that wage and hour laws apply to only employees and not to independent contractors, volunteers (see section on Employee Status), or other individual not meeting the definition of an employee.
The points below are intended to address some of the most common wage and hour questions with a very brief overview of the basic requirements and in no way is intended to provide a comprehensive review of the law. There are subtle nuances and exceptions in almost any situation and therefore, it is critical for employers to consult with employment counsel about any questions they may have relative to their individual situations.