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California Employment Laws

California has a reputation for having some of the strictest employment laws in the United States, which are designed to protect workers’ rights and prevent discrimination and harassment in the workplace. These laws cover a wide range of issues, including minimum wage and overtime, meal and rest breaks, leaves of absence, and wrongful termination. It is important for both employees and employers to understand these laws and their rights and responsibilities in order to create a fair and healthy work environment.

Here we identify some of the key laws that apply to California employees.

Overview of Key Employment Laws in California

The California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of race, color, national origin, ancestry, religion, age, disability, sex, gender, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, medical condition, genetic information, marital status, or military and veteran status. Cal. Gov. Code § 12940(a).

California’s minimum wage is currently higher than the federal minimum wage. Cal. Labor Code § 1182.12.

Non-exempt employees in California are entitled to a 30-minute meal break for every 5 hours of work and a 10-minute rest break for every 4 hours of work. Cal. Labor Code § 226.7.

Employees in California may be eligible for various types of leave, including pregnancy disability leave, family and medical leave, military leave, and bereavement leave. Cal. Gov. Code § 12945, Cal. Labor Code § 395, Cal. Lab. Code § 394, Cal. Lab. Code § 230.1.

California is an at-will employment state, which means that either the employer or the employee can terminate the employment relationship at any time, for any reason (with some exceptions). However, employers are prohibited from terminating employees for unlawful reasons, such as discrimination, retaliation, or violation of public policy. Cal. Lab. Code § 3202.

Minimum Wage and Overtime in California

Effective January 1, 2023, the minimum wage is $15.50 per hour for all employers. Some cities and counties have higher minimum wages than the state’s rate. In addition to the state minimum wage, some cities and counties in California have enacted their own minimum wage ordinances that require a higher wage. For example, San Francisco has a minimum wage of $16.99 per hour as of 2022.

Employees who work more than 8 hours in a day or 40 hours in a week are entitled to overtime pay, which is 1.5 times their regular rate of pay. Cal. Labor Code § 510.

Overtime pay is required for any work in excess of 8 hours per day, 40 hours per week, or the first 8 hours on the seventh consecutive day of work in a week. Cal. Labor Code § 511.

Certain employees, such as executive, administrative, and professional employees, may be exempt from overtime pay requirements. Cal. Labor Code § 515.

It is important for both employees and employers to understand the state’s minimum wage and overtime laws to ensure that workers are being fairly compensated for their time.

Meal and Rest Breaks in California

California law requires employers to provide non-exempt employees with a 30-minute meal break for every 5 hours of work, as well as a 10-minute rest break for every 4 hours of work. Cal. Labor Code § 226.7.

Meal breaks must be provided in the middle of the work period, if possible, and must be unpaid. Cal. Labor Code § 512(a).

Rest breaks, on the other hand, must be paid and must be provided as close as possible to the middle of the work period. Cal. Labor Code § 226.7(c).

If an employee works more than 10 hours in a day, they are entitled to an additional meal break of at least 30 minutes. Cal. Labor Code § 512(a).

Employees who do not receive the required meal and rest breaks are entitled to one hour of pay for each missed break. Cal. Labor Code § 226.7(b).

It is important for employers to understand and comply with California’s meal and rest break laws to ensure that workers are given adequate time to rest and recharge during their shifts.

Leaves of Absence in California

California law provides employees with several types of leaves of absence, including:

Pregnancy Disability Leave: Employees who are unable to work because of a pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical condition are entitled to up to 4 months of unpaid leave. Cal. Gov. Code § 12945.

Family and Medical Leave: Employees who have worked for their employer for at least 12 months and have at least 1,250 hours of service are entitled to up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for the birth or adoption of a child, to care for a family member with a serious health condition, or to address their own serious health condition. Cal. Labor Code § 395.

Military Leave: Employees who are called to active military duty are entitled to a leave of absence and are protected from discrimination and retaliation upon their return. Cal. Lab. Code § 394.

Bereavement Leave: California law requires employers with 25 or more employees to allow employees to take up to 3 days of unpaid leave for the death of a spouse, domestic partner, child, parent, sibling, grandparent, or grandchild. Cal. Lab. Code § 230.1.

California also has a Paid Family Leave program, which provides employees with partial wage replacement for up to 6 weeks to care for a seriously ill family member or bond with a new child. Cal. Ins. Code § 3300 et seq.

It is important for employers to understand and comply with California’s leave of absence laws to ensure that workers have the support they need during times of personal or family crisis.

Employees Can Seek Private Lawsuits

California’s employment laws are designed to protect workers’ rights and ensure a fair and healthy work environment. Both employees and employers should be familiar with these laws to ensure compliance and avoid disputes.

If you have questions about your rights or responsibilities as an employee or employer in California, it is always a good idea to consult with a qualified attorney.