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Woody, CA Wage and Hour Guide

What You Need to Know About California Minimum Wage and Overtime Law?

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.

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Am I Entitled to Minimum Wage 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.

The California Department of Industrial Relations explains the California laws that regulate pay for work in California.

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Am I Entitled to Overtime Pay 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.

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Current Minimum Wage in California

The minimum wage in California is $14 an hour. Because this is higher than the federal minimum wage of $7.25, employees in California must be paid at least $14 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:

  • Alameda: $15
  • Belmont: $15.90
  • Berkeley: $16.07
  • Cupertino: $15.65
  • El Cerrito: $15.61
  • Emeryville: $16.84
  • Fremont: $15 (more than 25 employees); $13.50 (up to 25 employees)
  • Hayward: $15
  • Los Altos: $15.65
  • Los Angeles: $15 (more than 25 employees); $14.25 (up to 25 employees)
  • Los Angeles County: $15 (more than 25 employees); $14.25 (up to 25 employees)
  • Malibu: $15 (more than 25 employees); $14.25 (up to 25 employees)
  • Milpitas: $15.40
  • Mountain View: $16.30
  • Novato: $15.24 (100 or more employees); $15 (26 - 99 employees); $14 (up to 25 employees)
  • Oakland: $14.36
  • Palo Alto: $15.65
  • Pasadena: $15 (more than 25 employees); $14.25 (up to 25 employees)
  • Petaluma: $15.20 (more than 25 employees); $15 (up to 25 employees)
  • Redwood City: $15.62
  • Richmond: $15.21
  • San Diego: $14
  • San Francisco: $16.07
  • San Jose: $15.45
  • San Leandro: $15
  • San Mateo: $15.62
  • Santa Clara: $15.65
  • Santa Monica: $15 (more than 25 employees); $14.25 (up to 25 employees)
  • Santa Rosa: $15 (more than 25 employees); $14 (up to 25 employees)
  • Sonoma: $15 (more than 25 employees); $14 (up to 25 employees)
  • Sunnyvale: $16.30

In some localities, the minimum wage is slightly lower for smaller employers and employers who contribute a certain amount to employee benefits. Contact your city or county government office to learn the details of your local minimum wage law. 

The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) sets the “floor” minimum wage for eligible workers in the U.S. This means most workers can't be paid less than the federal minimum wage, which is currently $7.25 an hour. But, many states and some local governments set their own minimum wage. Workers are entitled to be paid the highest minimum wage that applies where they work, whether it is set by federal, state, or local law. 

What Are My Rights to Tips in California?

Although many states allow employers to pay tipped employees less than the minimum wage, California is not among them. In California, your employer must pay you the full hourly minimum wage.

If you earn tips, you should know the rules about

  • what counts as a tip
  • how much your employer must pay you in addition to your tips, and
  • whether you can be required to contribute to a tip sharing arrangement (also called a “tip pool”).

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Does My California Employer Have to Give Me Breaks From 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.

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Am I Entitled to Paid Sick Leave, Family Leave, or Vacation Time in California?

Employees in California are legally entitled to paid sick leave, state temporary disability benefits, and paid family leave benefits under California law.

The rules for paid sick and family leave have changed rapidly in response to COVID-19. In March of 2020, Congress passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which required 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 expired at the end of 2020, however.

Employers in most states are not legally required to offer paid time off to employees, although many choose to do so. 

Paid Sick Leave: Federal Law

The federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act required covered employers to provide up to ten days of emergency paid sick leave for reasons related to COVID-19. However, this law expired at the end of 2020. Although Congress extended a tax credit for employers who choose to continue offering this leave for a few months, it did not extend the requirement that employers provide this leave.  

Paid Sick Leave: California and Local Law

More than a dozen states require employers to give employees paid sick time to use for their own illnesses or to care for a family member.

California employers must provide one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours an employee works. Although employees may accrue up to 48 hours of paid sick time per year, employers are not required to allow employees to use more than 24 hours per year. Employees may use this time for their own illness or preventative care, for a family member's illness or preventative care, or to seek help or handle practical matters arising from domestic violence, stalking, or sexual assault against the employee. To learn more about California's Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families law, see the California Department of Industrial Relations' Paid Sick Leave FAQ.  

In addition, a handful of local governments require employers doing business in the area to give employees a certain amount of paid sick leave. To find out if you are covered by this type of law, consult the frequently updated list of city and county paid sick leave laws at the website of the National Partnership for Women & Families.

Paid Family Leave: Federal Law

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act also required employers to offer public health emergency leave, a form of paid family leave. Eligible employees were eligible to take this leave if they were unable to work or telework because their child's school or care provider was closed or unavailable due to a COVID-19 public health emergency. This leave was available for up to 12 total weeks, the first two unpaid and the remaining ten paid. 

However, this leave entitlement also expired at the end of 2020. Like the paid sick leave provision, Congress extended the tax credit for employers who choose to continue providing this leave for a few months, but did not extend the requirement to provide leave. 

Paid Family and Disability Leave: State Law

Some states allow employees to collect benefits for disability leave, family and medical leave,  or both. Employers may also choose to make such benefits available voluntarily.

Disability Leave

A handful of states require employers to provide short-term disability insurance to employees who are temporarily unable to work due to disability, including pregnancy. Typically, employers pay into a state insurance fund to provide this coverage. 

California is one of a few states that offers temporary disability insurance to employees. This program is paid through money withheld from employee paychecks. If you are eligible, you will receive about 55% of your usual earnings, tax-free, while you are temporarily unable to work due to disability (including pregnancy). 

Some companies provide disability insurance as an employee benefit. This coverage may be short-term, long-term, or both. If you meet your employer’s requirements for taking this type of leave, you can make a claim for benefits under your employer’s plan.

Family and Medical Leave

A growing number of states have made paid family and medical leave benefits available to employees, typically through an insurance program that is funded by payroll withholding and/or employer contributions. In some states, this is part of the disability program; other states don't provide disability benefits, but have a standalone paid family leave benefit program. 

California offers paid family leave as part of its temporary disability insurance program. The paid family leave program gives employees the right to collect benefits for up to eight weeks for the following reasons: 

  • to bond with a new child
  • to care for a seriously ill family member, or
  • to participate in a qualifying event relating to a family member's military deployment to a foreign country. 

You can learn more at California's paid family leave page

Unpaid Time Off for Illness or Family Leave

Even if you aren’t entitled to paid time off when you are sick or need to care for a family member, you may be entitled to unpaid leave. Under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), for example, eligible employees may take up to 12 weeks off per year, unpaid, for their own serious health condition or to care for a family member with a serious health condition (among other reasons). Only employers with at least 50 employees must comply with this law, and employees are eligible for leave only if they have worked for at least a year, and at least 1,250 hours during the past year, for the employer.

Some states also require employers to provide unpaid time off for family and medical reasons, including illness. To find out the rules in California, contact the California Department of Industrial Relations.

Paid Vacation

Currently, only Nevada and Maine require employers to provide paid vacation or personal leave to employees (in the form of paid time off). 

California does not require employers to provide paid time off -- leave that can be used for any reason the employee chooses, like vacation time or personal leave -- to employees. If you have an employment agreement that promises you a certain number of paid vacation or personal leave days, then you may have a contract claim against your employer if it doesn't provide them. Otherwise, however, almost all employers may choose whether or not to offer vacation time or similar paid time off. 

If your employer does provide vacation time, state law determines whether your employer must pay out your accrued, unused vacation time when your employment relationship ends.

Under California law, your final paycheck must include pay for accrued vacation time.

If You Have Already Lost Your Job

Under all of these federal and state laws, leave is available only to those who are still employed. If you have already been laid off or otherwise lost your job, you should apply for unemployment benefits. You can find lots of information, articles, resources, and links -- including information on how California is handling unemployment claims in the coronavirus pandemic -- at our unemployment benefits learning center

Can My Employer Garnish My Wages in California?

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.

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What Can I Do If I Am Owed Pay in California?

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.

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How an Employment Lawyer Can Help You

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. 

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What Will It Cost to Hire a Wage and Hour Lawyer?

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. 

Initial Consultation

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. 

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