Key California Labor Laws Explained: Stay Legally Informed

California has some of the strongest labor laws in the U.S., designed to protect workers from unethical business practices – including discrimination against older employees, unequal pay for workers doing the same job, workplace harassment, and labor exploitation.

Understanding these labor laws as an employee will help you protect your rights at work, ensuring you’re treated fairly and receive appropriate remuneration.

For companies, complying with California labor laws can not only help you create a positive workplace culture for business success, it will also assist you in avoiding costly lawsuits from disgruntled employees that result from unfair labor practices.

In this blog post, we’ll go over some of the main California labor laws — including wage regulations, essential leave policies, and anti-discrimination measures — that California employees and employers alike should be aware of.

Which Are the Most Important Labor Laws in California?

There are hundreds of labor laws in California that safeguard employees’ rights, but the most commonly searched include:

  • California Minimum Wage Laws

Businesses are prohibited by minimum wage legislation from recruiting employees for less than the mandatory hourly pay.

As of January 1, 2023, all California employers must pay their workers, regardless of their age, gender, race, etc., a minimum wage of $15.50 per hour. This is double the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour and among the highest in the country.

California does allow its different cities to determine their minimum wages – and some have higher rates than the state. For example, West Hollywood has a minimum wage of $19.08, making it the best-paying U.S. city.

The California minimum wage law has a few exceptions. For instance, as a business owner, you aren’t obligated to pay the minimum wage to student employees, a spouse, parent, child, or other family member you hire.

The minimum wage requirement also doesn’t apply to individuals considered independent contractors and not employees under the California independent contractor law.

  • California Labor Laws Overtime

If your employer requires you to work more than 8 hours per day or 40 hours per week, they must compensate you for the extra hours done.

Overtime compensation in California is typically calculated at 1.5 times your regular hourly rate.

For example, if you earn $15.50 per hour and work 12 hours a day, your employer has to pay you $15.50 for the first 8 hours plus $23.25 (1.5×15.50) per hour for the four overtime hours completed.

If you work more than 12 hours a day, every task performed after the 12th hour should be compensated with at least double your normal rate, which is $31 per hour in California if you earn the minimum wage.

It’s crucial to note that some industries have their own overtime provisions, so consulting the California Department of Industrial Relations (DIR) or an experienced employment attorney can help you accurately determine how much overtime you should be getting.

  • California Meal & Rest Break Laws

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), a federal wage and hour legislation, doesn’t mandate U.S. employers to give meal and rest breaks.

However, California employment laws require businesses to provide employees with lunch breaks of at least 30 minutes for shifts longer than 5 hours and rest breaks of 10 minutes for every 4 hours worked.

These meal and rest breaks are counted as part of working hours, and employees are free to do whatever they choose during their break period to recharge. If a work shift is six hours or less, the meal break can be waived if the employee and employer agree to do away with it.

Additionally, if an employee’s responsibilities prevent them from taking a meal break, their employer must compensate them for the hour worked and the missed lunch break.

So, if you earn $30 per hour, and your California employer fails to give you a lunch break, they’ll owe you $60 — $30 for the missed meal break, and $30 for the hour worked for each day you don’t take your meal break.

  • The California Fair Employment and Housing Act

California has long been a leader in fostering workplace inclusion and diversity.

The state’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), passed in 1959, protects employees from being discriminated against based on factors such as race, gender, age, religion, disability, and sexual orientation. 

FEHA applies to all aspects of employment, including hiring, promotions, and termination.

The California labor law also requires businesses to provide a work environment free from harassment such as sexual harassment, verbal abuse, and other forms of mistreatment.

To deter sexual harassment, California employers with 5+ employees must conduct sexual harassment prevention training every two years for their supervisors and staff members. The course should cover the identification and reporting of harassment cases.

Employers are also expected to take prompt and appropriate action if harassment complaints arise, fostering a respectful and inclusive workplace.

  • CA Employees’ Family and Medical Leave

Balancing your professional and personal life is vital, and California’s labor laws recognize this by providing family and medical leave provisions.

The California Family Rights Act (CFRA) allows eligible employees to take up to 3 months of unpaid, job-protected leave in a 12-month period for reasons such as bonding with a newborn or adopted baby, caring for a family member with a serious health condition, or addressing their own health condition.

To be eligible for this sort of leave, an employee must have worked for an organization for at least one year and completed at least 1,250 work hours in the last 12 months.

Gallagher Krich, APC: Experienced California Employment Attorneys

Are you an employee seeking to protect your workplace rights or an employer in need of expert advice on how to comply with California labor laws? For knowledgeable legal counsel, contact Gallagher Krich, APC.

With over 30 years of combined employment law experience, we are well-equipped to answer any California labor law questions you have and handle any labor law issue you’re currently facing, including wage and hour violations, discrimination, harassment, wrongful termination, worker’s compensation, and more.

Contact us now at (858) 926-5797 or fill out our online contact form to schedule a free consultation to help you understand your rights and obligations under California labor laws and gain clarity on your legal standing if you’re involved in a California labor law dispute!

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