An Employer’s Guide to California Employee Rights

Did you know that roughly 55% of employees have experienced discrimination in the workplace?

Sadly, discrimination is only one of the problems employees face at work. Some employers cause these problems on purpose. But, others don’t know they’re an infringement of workplace rights.

Either way, not adhering to California employee rights can land you in legal trouble. You stand to incur a lot of legal fees, and worse, it can ruin your reputation.

So, how do you protect yourself as an employer? Simple: By understanding and implementing the current California employee rights.

Luckily, we’ll be helping you with the first part of this article. Read on as we explore rights you should know.

Exempt and Non-Exempt Workers’ Rights

Employees in California fall into either of two groups – exempt and non-exempt employees. Usually, exempt employees’ work is professional in nature, hence the different laws.

This group receives a monthly salary and isn’t eligible for overtime or meal and rest breaks. But, their salary should be double the minimum hourly wage for non-exempt workers.

Non-exempt workers are eligible for rest and meal breaks and overtime. Also, their wages accrue by the hour and are subject to the set minimum wage.

Minimum Wage

California has one of the friendliest minimum wage rights in the US. Exempt employees will have the right to receive a minimum annual salary of about $64,480 from January of next year.

Non-exempt employees in California also have one of the best rates in the country. The law requires you to pay them at least $12.00 per hour.

Overtime Pay

As mentioned before, only non-exempt workers are eligible for overtime pay. Overtime pay falls into two distinct categories in California – the 1.5 rate and the double rate. California labor law requires you to pay the 1.5 rate under the following conditions:

  • An employee works for 8 -12 hours on a single workday
  • An employee works for more than 40 hours in a single work week
  • An employee works for about eight hours on the seventh consecutive work day in one week

An employee is eligible for the double rate when working more than roughly 12 hours in one day. They also qualify for the rate if they work more than eight hours on the seventh consecutive work day. Failure to follow these rates could lead to lawsuits.

Paid Time Off

Paid time off (PTO) is any time when an employee isn’t working but is eligible for payment. Common types of PTO include sick leave, parental leave, and jury duty.

However, California labor law only requires you to offer sick leave as PTO. You can give employees more PTO depending on your company policy.

Some employers even offer vacation time as PTO to boost employees’ morale. If unsure about what to do, hire a professional to help with PTO computations.


California employment law protects all workers from discrimination in the workplace. Your employees can sue you for discrimination based on:

• Age
• Gender
• Religion
• Gender identity
• Race
• Sexual orientation
• Sex
• Disability
• National origin

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission handles most workplace discrimination cases. Employees also report cases to the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing. Consequences from either of these bodies can be dire, so you need to provide a good work environment.

Independent Contractor

It’s normal to want to hire independent contractors instead of full-time employees. After all, independent contractors don’t have a right to benefits like paid time off. But, many employers don’t realize that hiring independent contractors isn’t straightforward.

You’ll need to keep different tax forms for all your independent contractors. You must also file alternative taxes and implement different withholdings. It’d be best to work with a professional to determine how best to treat your independent contractors.

Sexual Harassment

The law protects all employees in California from sexual harassment at the workplace. California labor law breaks down sexual harassment into two distinct categories.

The first involves creating a hostile work environment that promotes inappropriate behavior. Inappropriate behavior is any unwelcome sexual conduct, be it verbal or physical.

The second category, quid pro quo, involves tying job benefits to sexual favors. The most common job benefits include promotions, salary increments, and fewer work hours. Sexual harassment is prohibited not only by California law but also by federal law.

Meal and Rest Breaks

The law grants employees a 30-minute meal break when they work for more than five hours. Ideally, you should offer a meal break before employees’ sixth hour on their shifts. Luckily, meal breaks are unpaid, so you won’t incur extra expenses for providing them.

Employees in California also have a right to rest breaks if they work more than roughly 3.5 hours a day. The law requires you to offer employees a 10-minute rest break every four hours.

Otherwise, you’ll have to pay them an equivalent of one hour’s pay for every break that’s missed. Remember, this only applies to non-exempt workers.

Caring for a Sick Family Member

Federal and state laws grant employees limited time to care for sick family members. Conditions that warrant some time off include:

• A loved one is ill
• A loved one’s military service causes distress
• A family member has just given birth
• A family member is adopting a child

You’re not required to pay your employee during these time offs. But, you need to provide medical coverage and maintain the employee’s position. If you can’t, you have to offer them a comparable position when they get back to work.


Fortunately, the law protects employees from the “snitches get stitches” saying. You can’t fire or demote an employee for doing any of the following:

• Acting as a whistleblower
• Reporting employment law violations
• Asking for reasonable accommodations because of their religion or disability
• Fighting against any form of discrimination

Employees reserve the right to report you if you retaliate for any of these reasons. This can land you in legal trouble and affect your business’ reputation.

Improve Your Employees’ Welfare by Implementing California Employee Rights

Understanding California employee rights will protect you from many avoidable lawsuits. The law is clear on all matters regarding employees in California.

It gives provisions on minimum wages, overtime pay, breaks, and PTO in California. Follow the laws discussed in this article for a smooth employer-employee relationship.

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