Geonetta & Frucht, LLP
By: Geonetta & Frucht, LLP

What Are the Differences Between Exempt and Non-Exempt Employees in California?

The labor laws of California classify employees into different categories based on their pay, the work they do, and their duties on the job. Depending on these classifying characteristics, an employee may be considered exempt or non-exempt when it comes to state and federal laws that dictate paid leave, overtime pay, break time, and meal breaks. An exempt employee is an individual who is not subject to these break time, tracking hours, and overtime laws.

In most situations, three factors determine which determine whether an employee shall be considered exempt or not. These include the following:

  • The employee in question must be paid a salary at least twice the state minimum wage requirements for full-time employees.
  • The employee’s job responsibilities ask that they use independent judgment in their regular job performance.
  • The employee’s primary job duties must be similar to those in administrative or executive roles.

If these factors are met, the employee should be exempted from specific state and federal employment law requirements.

Over the years, many employers have tried to deny their employees certain rights by purposefully misclassifying them as exempt when, in actuality, they were not. If you believe that your employer has misclassified you, we encourage you to contact our law firm to schedule a free case review with our experienced employment law attorneys.

What Are Common Examples of Exempt Workers?

Common examples of exempt workers in the California workforce may include the following:

  • Administration employees.
  • Certain employees who work on commissions.
  • Company executives.
  • Computer experts.
  • Doctors and surgeons.
  • Employees working for state or local governments.
  • IT professionals.
  • Lawyers.
  • Managers.
  • Pharmacists.
  • Physicians.
  • Private school teachers.
  • Public employees.
  • Retail store managers.
  • Sales workers making 1.5 times the minimum wage, with more than half of their income coming from commissions.
  • School administrators.
  • Specially skilled professionals.
  • Traveling sales personnel and outside salespersons.
  • Truck drivers.
  • Union employees.

Non-exempt employees often include the following workers:

  • Construction workers.
  • Delivery drivers.
  • General labor.
  • Interns.
  • Janitors and cleaning staff.
  • Office clerks and assistants.
  • Restaurant workers like the wait staff.
  • Retail cashiers and associates.
  • Security guards.

What is the Salary Requirement for Employees to Be Considered Exempt?

Generally speaking, employees who work on a salary instead of an hourly wage may be considered exempt. However, that salary must be at least twice the California minimum for full-time employment.

The definition of a salaried employee, in this situation, is a worker whose minimum amount of pay has no variance and is a reliable, constant number. In other words, their minimum salary does not change depending on the number of hours they work in a given workweek.

The minimum salary – the pay that is twice the minimum wage – changes every year. In 2023, the minimum wage in California reached $15.50 an hour.

What Are the White-Collar Duties Requirements?

Provided that the salary requirements are met, the employee must also be employed in an executive, managerial, or administrative position. There may be some disagreement as to whether an employee should be considered to be in an administrative or supervisory role. In such cases, the law looks to the duties and responsibilities they perform in their position.

What Are the Discretion and Independent Judgment Requirements?

Many employees who are usually considered exempt exercise independent judgment at their own discretion in their jobs. Under the law, discretion and independent judgment are defined as involving comparing and evaluating different competing courses of action and making decisions that impact their future, the future of the company they work for, or both.

What Are the Rights of Nonexempt Employees?

Non-exempt employees are guaranteed certain workers’ rights under state and federal law.

California’s laws state that each worker is entitled to receive a minimum wage. Exempt workers are not guaranteed minimum wage. However, a worker can only be considered exempt if they make a certain amount of money on their salary, so it doesn’t apply regardless.

The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. Thankfully, the California minimum wage is more than twice that currently, totaling $15.50 an hour. And certain cities and counties have an even higher minimum wage than that.

Federal laws require that all non-exempt employees get an overtime rate of at least 1.5 times their normal hourly pay for each hour over their 40-hour workweek. In addition to the federal requirement, California state laws also require overtime pay for work over eight hours in a single day.

California law also requires that non-exempt workers have the right to meal and rest breaks. These employees are entitled to one half-hour meal break if they work for more than five hours in a day. If you work for more than ten hours in one workday, you are entitled to a second 30-minute meal break. And employees may also have one paid ten-minute rest break for every four hours on the job.

Contact Our Law Firm to Schedule a Free Consultation

If you believe your employer has misclassified you as an exempt employee, you have the right to make a claim and pursue justice. But you don’t have to go it alone. Geonetta & Frucht, LLP, has extensive experience representing clients in all types of employment law and labor law matters, and we would be proud to assist you on this issue.

To schedule your free case evaluation, please call our Oakland office at 510-254-3777 or our San Francisco law office at 415-433-4589. We look forward to hearing from you.

Geonetta & Frucht, LLP
By: Geonetta & Frucht, LLP