You are legally entitled to be paid at least the minimum wage in California, unless you fit into one of the exceptions to the minimum wage laws (discussed below). It doesn’t matter whether you are paid by the piece, by the hour, by salary, on commission, or in tips. You must receive at least the minimum hourly wage, unless you are exempt.
What Is the Minimum Wage?
To prevent employers from paying employees an unfairly low wage, the federal government sets a minimum wage rate. Currently, the federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour (it was last raised in 2009).
Most states have their own minimum wage law. Some states have a higher minimum wage, some have adopted the federal minimum wage rate, and a few even have a lower minimum wage. And, a number of local governments have set their own higher minimum wage rates.
You are always entitled to the highest minimum wage that applies where you work. For example, if your state’s minimum wage is lower than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, you are entitled to the federal wage rate. If you work in a city that has a higher minimum wage, you are entitled to that higher amount.
The minimum wage in California is $15.50 an hour. Because this is higher than the federal minimum wage of $7.25, employees in The Golden State must be paid at least $15.50 an hour.
Quite a few local governments in California have passed ordinances establishing a higher minimum wage. If you work in one of these cities or counties, you are entitled to earn the higher local minimum wage amount.
Learn more about California's minimum wage at https://www.dir.ca.gov/dlse/faq_minimumwage.htm.
You can find out whether your local government has a minimum wage law, as well as information on how to enforce your minimum wage rights, at our Petaluma, CA Minimum Wage and Wage Claims page.
Who Is Entitled to the Minimum Wage
Most employees are eligible to be paid at least the minimum wage, but some are not. Employees who are not eligible to be paid the minimum wage are sometimes called “exempt” employees. Examples of employees who are not entitled to the minimum wage under federal law include:
- Seasonal and recreational employees
- Farmworkers on small farms
- Fishing employees
- Certain students and apprentice employees
- Companions for the elderly, and
- Babysitters who work on a casual basis.
States and local governments that have passed their own minimum wage laws may provide additional or different exemptions.
Special Rules for Tipped Employees
Some states and local governments allow employers to pay tipped employees a lower hourly minimum wage, as long as they earn enough in tips to bring their total hourly pay up to the regular minimum wage. Under federal law, for example, an employer may pay tipped employees as little as $2.13 an hour, as long as they earn enough in tips to bring their pay to at least $7.25 an hour. This is called taking a "tip credit." Not every state allows employers to take a tip credit, however. And, the tipped minimum wage employers must pay varies from state to state. To learn more about wage rules for tipped employees, see What Are My Rights to Tips in California?
If you believe your minimum wage rights have been violated, there are steps you can take to try to enforce your rights. See What Can I Do If I Am Owed Pay in California to learn more about wage theft claims. If you are looking for help from a lawyer, see How to Find a Wage and Hour Lawyer in California.