California has some of the most employee-friendly wage & hour laws in the country. These laws govern payment of overtime, the giving of meal and rest breaks, and include other rules and regulations about how much and when employees must be paid. While a single employee’s wage claim may sometimes be too small to pursue in court individually, you still have an opportunity to obtain compensation and create company-wide change by serving as a legal representative of your fellow employees who are in similar circumstances. If you are the victim of a wage & hour law violation, you should speak to an employment lawyer right away.
The most common types of wage & hour claims involve unpaid overtime.
In California, nonexempt employees are entitled to overtime if they work more than 40 hours in a week or more than 8 hours in a day.
California law also entitles nonexempt employees to breaks after working for certain periods of time. If you are nonexempt (meaning that you are entitled to overtime pay), your employer is required to give you a 30-minute meal brake after you work more than 5 hours in a day. The law also requires employers to provide a 10-minute rest break after every 4 hours of work. Here are some specifics:
If you work more than 5 hours in a day, you are entitled to a 30-minute meal break.
If you work more than 10 hours in a day, you are entitled to a second 30-minute meal break.
Your employer cannot discourage you from taking your meal break.
Your employer must relieve you of all work duties during the meal break.
You can take your meal break off work premises.
Your employer is not required to pay you for time taken during your meal break.
If you work more than 5 hours, but less than 6 hours in a day, you can agree with your boss to waive the first meal break. If you work more than 10 hours, but less than 12 hours, you can agree with your boss to waive the second meal break, provided the first one wasn’t waived.
On-Duty Meal Breaks
Under certain circumstances, employees can take on-duty meal breaks. These are permitted only when:
The nature of the work prevents the employee from being relieved of all work duties.
The employee agrees in writing to take on-duty meal breaks.
Employees are entitled to pay for on-duty meal breaks. Generally, an employee who agrees to on-duty meal breaks can revoke their agreement at any time.
If you work more than 3.5 hours, you are entitled to a rest break.
You are entitled to a rest break for every 4 hours you work.
The break must be at least 10 minutes long and should be uninterrupted.
If possible, the break must be near the middle of the 4-hour period.
Rest breaks must be paid.
You can’t be required to work during your rest break, but you can choose to work during the break, so long as your employer isn’t encouraging or requiring you to continue working.
What If These Rules Aren’t Followed?
While there are exceptions for certain industries, including the healthcare, group home, motion picture, manufacturing, and baking industries, California law imposes stiff penalties on employers who fail to follow meal and rest break rules.
Missed Meal Breaks
For each workday that your employer fails to provide you a meal break, the employer will owe you one additional hour of pay at your regular rate.
Missed Rest Breaks
If you miss one or both rest breaks, you are entitled to one additional hour of pay, which must be included in your next paycheck.
Other Types of Wage & Hour Claims
Off-the-clock work: It’s illegal for your employer to require you to work “off-the-clock.” Sometimes, employers make repeated requests for off-the-clock work, other times, the employer’s policies, whether they are written or not, require employees to do unpaid work. Either way, the law requires employers to pay nonexempt employees for all time spent working.
Failure to reimburse for expenses: California law requires employers to reimburse employees for expenses incurred because of the job. The most common type of reimbursements are costs for use of the employee’s vehicle for work and mileage reimbursement, commonly known as “mileage expense.” Other expenses include the purchase of supplies or any other necessary cost the employee incurs because of the job. Failure to reimburse employees for reasonable expenses is illegal.
Vacation and sick time: “Paid time off” or “PTO” is considered part of an employee’s wages in California. While employers aren’t required to provide PTO, if they do, they cannot deprive employees of PTO by taking it back or refusing to allow PTO to carryover to later pay periods.
Failure to pay wages at termination (waiting time penalties): If you are fired or you quit, your employer must promptly pay you all wages due, including all unused PTO. A violation will result in “waiting time penalties,” which can be up to 30-days of additional pay.
Late payment of wages: Employees must be paid wages and commissions promptly. It’s illegal to make employees wait for money they have earned.
If you believe you are the victim of a wage & hour violation, you should consult an experienced employment lawyer. The Orange County based Law Offices of Corbett H. Williams represents employees in harassment, retaliation, wrongful termination, wage & hour and other employment matters. Strict time limits apply to wage & hour claims, so you shouldn’t wait. Contact us today at 949-679-9909 or use the contact form below and we will respond promptly.