You can recover unpaid wages, overtime, and tips in California if you know your rights and how to enforce them. Does your employer owe you unpaid wages or overtime? Or, maybe you need information on the breaks you’re entitled to, overtime rules, or your right to tips. If so, you'll find the information you need on this site to learn what you can do in California to get the money you have earned.
Here, we answer many common questions about wage and hour law in California, including:
A few things to keep in mind as you explore this site:
1. Wage and hour laws differ from state to state.
Most states have enacted their own wage and hour regulations and procedures for employees to follow if they have been treated unfairly. These regulations and procedures vary from state to state. Start by finding out about your rights to pay in California.
You are entitled to be paid the minimum wage set by law in California (unless you are exempt), and you have other work pay rights, too. No matter how you are paid, whether by hourly wage, salary, commissions, tips, or piece rate, the law in California gives you certain rights. While your employer can pay you in a variety of ways, each manner of payment is regulated by federal law and the laws of some states. These regulations:
guarantee minimum wage rates
define commission pay
set paycheck payment schedules, and
establish the deadlines for paycheck payments in California.
Most employers must pay overtime pay for every hour of overtime an employee works in California, unless the employee is exempt. To figure out if you are entitled to overtime pay for your work in California, these are the questions you need answers to:
Is your employer covered by federal or state overtime pay laws?
Are you eligible for overtime pay under federal or state overtime pay laws?
Are you exempt from overtime pay laws?
How does California regulate overtime pay? and,
What is the overtime pay rate in California?
The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires most employers to pay employees one-and-a-half times their regular hourly wage (called "time and a half") for every hour worked over 40 hours in a workweek, unless the employee is exempt from overtime pay entitlement. So, if you are eligible, you should be paid your regular hourly wage plus 50% of that wage as premium pay for each overtime hour you work.
California is one of a handful of states that require employers to provide paid rest breaks to employees.
Although many employees get meal and rest breaks during the workday, these breaks aren’t legally required everywhere. Federal law doesn’t require employers to give employees time off to eat or rest during their shifts. Employees are entitled to these breaks only if their state requires it.
The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) doesn’t require employers to give breaks, but it does regulate when employers have to pay for breaks they choose to give.
Should Your Breaks Be Paid?
The FLSA requires employers to pay employees for all hours worked, including time the employer may classify as a “break.” An employer does not have to pay for longer meal breaks during which the employee is relieved of all work duties.
Employees in California are legally entitled to paid sick leave, state temporary disability benefits, and paid family leave benefits under California law, and may also be entitled to paid sick leave or paid family leave under the Families First Coronavirus Act, a new federal law.
The rules for paid sick and family leave are rapidly changing in response to COVID-19. In March of 2020, Congress passed the Families First Coronavirus Act, which requires many employers to start providing some paid time off to employees affected by COVID-19 by the beginning of April. The leave provisions of the law expire at the end of 2020.
Before this new emergency law, employers in most states were not required to offer any paid time off to employees (although many chose to do so).
Paid Sick Leave: Federal Law
Under the Families First Coronavirus Act, eligible employees can take up to ten days of emergency paid sick leave for reasons related to COVID-19.
Who Can Take Emergency Paid Sick Leave
You may be eligible for leave if:
You are subject to a COVID-19 quarantine or isolation order issued by the federal, state, or local government.
You have been advised to self-quarantine by a health care provider due to COVID-19 concerns.
You are caring for someone who fits into one of the two categories above.
You have symptoms of COVID-19 and are seeking diagnosis.
You are caring for a son or daughter whose school or care facility is closed, or whose childcare provider is unavailable, due to COVID-19 concerns.
You are experiencing a condition substantially similar to COVID-19, as specified by the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services in consultation with other government officials.
Your employer can garnish your wages in California if ordered to do so. When an employer garnishes your wages, it withholds a portion of your pay and gives it to another person or business to whom you owe money. Under federal law, California employers may garnish a portion of an employee’s wages because the employer has been ordered to do so by a court or through some other legal procedure by a creditor.
Your wages may be garnished in California if you have:
unpaid credit card debt and the credit card company seeks repayment
failed to pay child or spousal support
defaulted on a student loan, or
unpaid taxes due and the taxing authority seeks payment.
Wage garnishment happens when an employee has an unpaid debt (unrelated to employment) and the creditor of the debt seeks payment. Generally speaking, your employer must garnish your wages when ordered to do so. But, there are limits on how much of your earnings may be garnished, and on how your employer responds to the garnishment. And, some states go further than federal law in limiting the amount an employer may withhold from your wages.
If you have an overtime, minimum wage violation, or other wage and hour claim against your employer, you can complain within your company, file a wage claim (in most states), or file a lawsuit to assert your rights.
If your employer has not paid you the full minimum wage, has not paid you overtime you earned, has not paid you for every hour worked, has required you to work through unpaid breaks, or has illegally kept your tips (among other things), you may have a legal claim for wage theft. Below, we explain the most common wage law violations and provide information on how to enforce your right to be paid fairly, and on time, for all of your work.
Common Wage and Overtime Violations
If your employer hasn’t paid you fully for every hour you have worked, you may have legal claims for violation of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) or California wage and hour law. Here are some common wage theft claims.
You don’t have to hire a lawyer to help you negotiate with your employer about unpaid wages or overtime, file a wage claim, or even file a lawsuit in California or federal court. At some point in the legal process, however, most people will want to at least consult with a lawyer. And, for many, it will make sense to hire a lawyer early on.
There are many ways an employment lawyer can help you with your legal claims for unpaid wages or overtime. A lawyer can help you by:
Figuring out whether your employer is breaking the law (that is, whether you have a claim in the first place).
Determining how much your employer owes you, including unpaid wages or overtime, other out-of-pocket expenses, and penalties.
If your employer (or former employer) already owes you unpaid wages, overtime, pay for breaks you had to work through, or other compensation you never received, you may be wondering whether you can afford to hire a lawyer to help you get your money back. The good news is that employment lawyers representing employees usually charge their clients on a contingency fee basis. This means the lawyer gets paid only if you win, out of the money you receive as a settlement or award.
Below, we explain how attorney fees and court costs work in a case for overtime or other unpaid wages.
Your first step in choosing an attorney – and deciding whether to move forward with your claims against your employer – is an initial consultation. The initial consultation provides you and the attorney an opportunity to decide whether and how you will work together.