The state of California now has a confusing patchwork of wage and overtime laws.

Understanding your employment rights under these laws is imperative for anyone whose employer isn’t properly paying wages and overtime.

Is your employer paying you everything that you’ve earned?

WHAT PROTECTS WORKERS’ RIGHTS IN CALIFORNIA?

The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938 protects every worker’s wage, hour, and overtime rights. Employees in California enjoy a number of additional legal protections under state law.

But despite federal and state laws, some employers in California still try to cheat their employees out of overtime pay. When employees can prove that they’ve been cheated, the courts in California will hold the employers accountable.

If you believe that you are not being paid properly by your employer in this state, discuss your case and your rights at once with an experienced San Francisco employment rights attorney.

Here are the most frequently-asked questions about overtime and the law in California – and the answers to those questions:

Q: WHAT ARE CALIFORNIA’S MINIMUM WAGE AND OVERTIME RULES?

A: The state-level hourly minimum wage increased to $11 on January 1, 2018 for employers with 26 or more employees. For employers with 25 or fewer employees, the state-level hourly minimum wage rose to $10.50.

California’s state-level hourly minimum wage will keep rising until 2022, when it becomes $15 an hour for the employers with 26 or more employees. Beginning in 2023, the state-level hourly minimum wage that all California employers must pay will be $15 an hour.

Q: MAY LOCAL JURISDICTIONS SET THEIR OWN MINIMUM WAGE LAWS?

A: Yes. Many county and city governments in California have established their own minimum wage rates which exceed the state’s minimum wage requirements.

Every local minimum wage ordinance is unique. It’s a growing trend across California.

The City of Emeryville, for example, currently requires employers with 56 or more employees to pay a minimum wage of $15.20 an hour. That rate will increase to $15.60 in July, and smaller Emeryville employers will have to pay employees $15 an hour also beginning in July.

As you can see, wage and overtime laws are quite complicated in this state. Employees working under an employment contract and certain white-collar workers may be exempted from wage and overtime regulations.

Q: WHAT IS OVERTIME? WHAT ARE OVERTIME WAGES IN CALIFORNIA?

A: Eight hours of labor constitutes a day’s work in California, and work beyond eight hours in any workday or more than six days in any workweek is considered overtime.

One and one-half times an employee’s regular rate of pay must be paid for all hours beyond eight hours in a day and for the first eight hours on the seventh consecutive day of work in a workweek.

Employees must be paid at twice their regular rate pay for all hours worked beyond twelve hours in any workday and for all hours beyond eight hours on the seventh consecutive day in a workweek.

There are also some exceptions that allow overtime to be paid on a different basis in some very specific circumstances.

Q: ARE EMPLOYERS OBLIGATED TO PAY FOR UNAUTHORIZED OVERTIME?

A: The answer is yes. California requires employers to pay for overtime, whether or not it was authorized, at the overtime rate specified by law.

Employers may discipline employees who work overtime without authorization, but the law requires payment for all hours an employee is “suffered or permitted to work, whether or not required to do so.”

Q: ARE BONUSES CONSIDERED “REGULAR” PAY FOR OVERTIME PURPOSES?

A. A nondiscretionary bonus is considered regular pay when it is based upon hours worked, proficiency, or production.

Discretionary bonuses or sums paid as gifts, when those sums are not dependent on hours worked, production, or efficiency, are not included for purposes of determining the regular rate of pay.

Q: WHAT TYPE OF REMUNERATION IS NOT CONSIDERED “REGULAR” PAY?

A: Remuneration that is not added into the calculation of regular pay includes reimbursements for expenses, sums paid as gifts for special occasions, payments made for periods when no work is performed due to vacation, holiday, illness, or the employer’s failure to provide sufficient work.

Q: CAN OVERTIME EVER BE OWED TO SALARIED EMPLOYEES?

A. The answer to that question is, “It depends.” Salaried employees must be compensated for overtime unless they are exempt under federal and state laws.

Some employees may also be specifically exempted from overtime by order of the California Industrial Welfare Commission.

Q: CAN CALIFORNIA EMPLOYERS REQUIRE OVERTIME?

A: Yes, California employers may determine the work schedules and hours of their employees. In most cases, an employer may discipline – and even terminate – an employee who refuses to work overtime.

Q: CAN EMPLOYEES WAIVE THEIR RIGHT TO OVERTIME PAY?

A. Not in California, where the law requires employers to pay employees full overtime compensation – notwithstanding any particular employee’s private agreement or consent to work for a lower rate of pay.

Q: HOW SOON ARE EMPLOYERS REQUIRED TO PAY OVERTIME?

A: Overtime wages must be paid no later than the payday for the next regular payroll period after which the overtime wages were earned, or, for employees who are paid on a weekly, biweekly, or semimonthly basis, not more than seven calendar days following the close of the pay period.

Q: IF YOUR EMPLOYER ISN’T PAYING YOU PROPERLY, WHAT CAN YOU DO?

A: You may file a wage claim with the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement, or you can file a lawsuit to recover lost wages. The smart move is discussing your case with an employment rights attorney, and then adhering to that attorney’s recommendations.

Q: HOW CAN YOU PROTECT YOURSELF IF YOUR EMPLOYER RETALIATES?

A: If an employer retaliates or discriminates against you for filing a wage claim or for speaking to an attorney about your rights, that employer is violating the law. Speak to an employment lawyer who can protect your rights and hold your employer accountable.

Q: HOW CAN AN EMPLOYMENT LAWYER HELP?

A: Shady employers might tell you to work “off the clock.” They might even alter your time sheet or try to pay you straight time for overtime.

If you’re being cheated by an employer in California, or if you’re not sure, let an experienced employment attorney review your case and provide the advice – and if necessary, the representation – you need.

If you work in California, you work hard. The people of California do not tolerate unethical employers, so if you are being cheated and you take legal action, the law will be on your side.

If your employer is violating the law and you aren’t being paid what you’ve earned, you must stand up for your rights. A good employment lawyer can help.

By: Fred Geonetta

Frederick J. Geonetta is a graduate of the University of California, Hastings College of Law. His legal practice is entirely devoted to litigation. Mr. Geonetta has spent the past 25 years in private practice representing both plaintiffs and defendants who have been harmed or wronged by the actions of others or who have been falsely accused of causing harm to others. He represents clients across the U.S. and international clients who seek U.S. legal advice or representation.