California state labor laws give workers certain rights. These rights include the right to a minimum wage and the right to be paid for overtime work. Employee rights also include the right to take leave from work to care for one’s illness or that of a family member. 

California labor laws also protect an employee’s right to not be subject to workplace discrimination. Employers who violate California labor laws have violated employee rights, and injured employees may seek redress in court.

Part-time vs. Full-time in California

California labor laws draw a distinction between full-time employees and part-time employees. Generally, full-time employees are those employees who work 40 hours a week or more. Individuals who work less than forty hours a week are considered to be part-time employees.

Minimum Wage Law in California

The California labor laws impose minimum wage requirements on employers. Under the state’s minimum wage laws, employees (except those specifically exempted from the minimum wage law) must be paid a minimum hourly wage. Under current California wage and hour laws, employers with 25 employees or less must pay those employees a minimum wage of $12.00 per hour. Under California employment law, employers who have 26 or more employees must pay those employees a minimum wage of $13.00 per hour,

Certain California localities, such as the county of Los Angeles, require that employees conducting business in those localities pay a higher minimum wage rate than the “state” rate. Los Angeles county, for example, requires Los Angeles employers who employ 25 or less employees, to pay a minimum wage of $14.25 per hour. Los Angeles requires employers who employ 26 employees or more, to pay those employees a minimum wage of $15.00 per hour.  In addition to state and local minimum wage laws, there is a federal minimum wage law. The current federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour.

An employer conducting city or county that is covered by federal, state, and local minimum wage laws, as employers in Los Angeles are, must comply with the law that is most generous to the employee. This means that Los Angeles county employers must pay employees either the $14.25 or $15.00 rate, as applicable, as opposed to the $12.00/$13.00 state rate or the $7.25 federal minimum wage.

Also, local entities (cities and counties) are allowed to enact minimum wage rates and several cities have recently adopted ordinances which establish a higher minimum wage rate for employees working within their local jurisdiction. The effect of this multiple coverage by different government sources is that when there are conflicting requirements in the laws, the employer must follow the stricter standard; that is, the one that is the most beneficial to the employee.

Overtime in California

Under California labor law, certain employees must receive overtime pay. Employees who either work over 8 hours on a given work day, or who work more than 6 consecutive days (for at least eight hours each day) must be given overtime pay. Overtime pay must be paid at the rate of one and one half (1 ½) times the regular rate of pay for employees who work between eight to twelve hours a day. If an employee works for seven days in a row, putting in eight hours or more each day, then on the seventh day, overtime (at the rate of 1 ½ times the regular rate of pay) must be paid for the first eight hours of work performed on the seventh day.

In some instances, California labor law requires double overtime payment. Double overtime payment is payment that is twice the rate of the regular wage. If, in any given workday, an employee works beyond twelve hours, the employer must pay the employee double the rate of regular pay for all hours worked over twelve hours. This is in addition to the one and one half (1 ½) rate for which these employees must be paid for hours “8” through “12.” Double pay is also required for each hour past eight hours, that an employee works on a 7th consecutive day.

As an example of how overtime pay works on a weekly basis, consider a California employee who has a Sunday-through-Saturday job If that employee works eight hours on each day between Sunday and Friday, the employee is eligible for overtime pay for time worked on Saturday. The rate of overtime pay is time and one half above the regular rate for the first eight hours worked on Saturday. The rate of overtime pay is double the regular rate for any hours worked beyond those eight Saturday hours

As an example of how overtime pay works on a daily basis, consider an employee who works eight hours a day. If that employee is required to put in overtime, the employee must be paid at 1 ½ times the regular rate of pay for the first four hours of overtime. Once those four hours have been completed, the employee has put in 12 hours of work. If the employee is required to put in additional overtime beyond that, the additional overtime must be paid for at a rate of twice the regular pay. 

Health Benefits in California

California law itself does not require employers to either offer or pay for employee health benefits. Under the federal law known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (commonly referred to as “the ACA”), employers who employ more than 50 full-time employees (under the ACA, a full-time employee is one who works at least 30 hours a week), must offer group health insurance to those employees. The plan that must be offered must be a “bronze” plan or higher. 

Under the ACA, a “bronze” plan is one that covers 60% of an employee’s health insurance costs. That is, the health insurance plan pays for 60% of the employee’s expenses, and the employee pays for 40%). Employers may, but are not required to, offer silver (70% of employee expenses), gold (80% of employee expenses), or platinum (90% of employee expenses) plans instead. Regardless of the plan offered, employers are not required to pay the monthly premium payments. The employer can require that the employee pay the full amount of the premiums.

California Employment Discrimination Law

Under California employment discrimination laws, workers may not be fired on the basis of certain characteristics or bases. These include:

  • Race
  • Color 
  • Ancestry
  • National origin
  • Religion or creed
  • Age (40 and over)
  • Physical or mental disability 
  • Gender (including pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding or related medical conditions)
  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender identity or gender expression
  • Disability
  • Genetic information
  • Marital status
  • Military or veteran status

While an employer has the right to terminate an employee for sub-par job performance or job misconduct, an employer cannot terminate an employee for one or more of the above reasons. Employees who believe they have been discriminated against must present their claim with one of two government agencies: either the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), or the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). 

These agencies investigate discrimination claims, and offer mediation services between employers and employees. If mediation does not resolve the dispute, the employee is issued a “Right to Sue” letter from the agency. This letter can contain a finding that the employer discriminated. It can contain a finding that the opposite occurred. Only at this point, the issuance of the letter, can the employee then file a lawsuit against the employer. 

Time Off in California

The California labor code requires that certain employees be given time off, or leave, from work. California labor law provides for this leave in the form of sick leave, leave to care for a family member, and pregnancy leave.

California requires that employees who work for 30 or more hours a year, be given paid sick leave. Under California law, for every 30 hours a full-time, part-time, or temporary employee works, that employee “earns” one hour of paid sick leave, at the current rate of pay. If the employee becomes ill, the employee may use the hours the employee has earned for paid sick leave. 

Consider a California employee who has worked 240 hours in a year. Under California law, this employee is entitled to eight hours of paid sick leave. This means that, if the employee becomes ill, the employee, upon notifying the employer, may use those eight hours as “time off” to recover, at the regular rate of pay.

California also requires employers to provide Paid Family Leave (PFL). This leave can be used by employees to take time off to care for a seriously ill child, spouse, grandparent or grandchild, In-law,” parent, brother or sister, or registered domestic partner. Under paid family leave, individuals may also take time off to bond with a new child, including a birth child, adopted child, or foster care child.

California labor law also requires employers to provide Pregnancy Disability Leave. This leave, applicable to employers who employ at least give employees, can be used for up to four months. Pregnancy disability leave is available to women who are disabled by pregnancy, childbirth or a related medical condition. 

California also requires employers to provide temporary disability insurance benefits to employees. Employers may choose to do so either through the state-run State Disability Insurance program, or through a private disability insurance benefits program. Employers do not pay for disability insurance benefits. Disability insurance benefits are funded by deductions from employees’ earnings.  

Where Can I Find a Local Lawyer to Help Me?

If you have an issue involving California labor or employment law, you should contact a California labor lawyer. An experienced California employment lawyer near you can review your situation and advise you on how to proceed. The attorney can represent you at hearings and in court proceedings.