California Wage & Hour Lawyers

What Are Your Wage & Hour Rights as an Employee in California?

Wage and hour discrimination is just one of many types of unjust or prejudicial treatments employees face on the job and that we fight in court. For more about our Employment Law legal services, please see our “California Employment Law Attorney” page. Or for other types of employee work-related issues we fight for our clients, see the links to the right.

Wage and hour laws dictate, among other things, the lowest wage that an employee must receive, how the employee must be paid, what happens when an employee gets hurt at work, what information must show up on the employee’s paystubs, and what type of documents the employer must keep.

As an employee you depend on your paycheck to feed your family.  This almost always gives the employer a tremendous advantage and bargaining power over you.  This is why there are strict California and federal laws that protect the employee and regulate different aspects of this unequal relationship.

Both exempt and non-exempt employees are protected by laws that are often referred to as “wage and hour” laws.  They dictate, among other things, the lowest wage that an employee must receive, how the employee must be paid, what happens when an employee gets hurt at work, what information must show up on the employee’s paystubs, and what type of documents the employer must keep.  Non-exempt employees must also receive premium for overtime/double time compensation for certain hours they work and must receive certain meal and rest breaks.

California employment laws protect you when you work in California.  There are parallel federal employment laws that protect you both in California and across the United States.  You are protected by both California and federal employment laws regardless of whether you are working in this country legally or illegally and your residency status has no effect on your ability to pursue your employment remedies under the law.

The information on this website focuses on California rather than federal law because California law is more protective of employee rights.  You also cannot agree to give up any of these state or federal employment rights no matter what you say or what papers you sign. Your employer also cannot destroy your employment rights by labeling you as an “independent contractor” or having you agree, orally or in writing, that you are an “independent contractor” or issuing you a Form 1099 for your pay.

There are some very limited exceptions that generally apply to highly paid professional or managerial employees (“exempt employees” or “salaried employees”) who have fewer employment rights but the vast majority of workers (“non-exempt employees” or “hourly employees”) are protected by strict employment laws described below.  However, an employer cannot convert you from non-exempt to the less favorable exempt classification by having you agree to be a salaried employee and/or paying you a salary unless you fit into one of the limited exempt employee categories.

You must be paid for the time you have already worked.

Your employer must pay you whenever you perform work and cannot cut or reduce the hours you already worked when paying you. For example, your employer cannot cut your hours because you did not work quickly enough or did not do a good enough job or because the employer does not have enough money to pay you for all of the hours you worked.

The clock normally starts to run when you get to work and includes the time needed to organize for the day and the time to travel to and from customer locations. If your employer has not paid you for all of the hours you worked then your employer may owe you money going back up to four years.

If you are paid a salary (because you are an exempt employee), the employer cannot pay you less salary for the days you already worked because they are unhappy with the quality of your work or because you completed your work in less time than the employer anticipated.

You are entitled to be paid at least the minimum wage.

You cannot agree with your employer to work for less than minimum wage.  The minimum wage is $9.00 per hour in California but there is a higher city minimum wage of $11.05 in San Francisco and $12.25 in Oakland.  Your employer must pay you the highest applicable minimum wage.

If you work any overtime hours (see below for an explanation of overtime) then you must be paid at least one and one-half times (150%) the minimum wage. If you work double time hours (see below for an explanation of double time) then you must be paid at least double (200%) the minimum wage.  If you have been paid less than minimum wage then your employer may owe you significant money and a penalty for violating minimum wage laws going back up to four years.

If you fit into one of the narrow exempt employee exceptions, then your yearly salary must be at least double the California minimum wage which comes out to an annual salary of at least $37,440.

You must be paid overtime and double time when you work long hours.  

You must be paid an overtime premium (150%) for any time you work more than 8 hours in a day, more than 40 hours per week, or seven days in a week.  For example, if you work nine hours in any day and your normal rate of pay is $12, then you must be paid 8 hours of regular time at $12 per hour plus 1 hour of overtime at $18 per hour.  You must also be paid double time (200%) for any time you work over 12 hours in any day or more than 8 hours on a 7th day in a week.  For example, if you work 13 hours in any day and your normal rate of pay is $12 per hour then you must be paid 8 hours of regular time at $12 per hours plus 4 hours of overtime at $18 per hour plus one hour of double time at $24 per hour.

Most employees must be paid overtime and double time even if they agreed to work for a “salary” unless they fit into one of the narrow exempt employee exceptions.  If you have not been paid overtime or double time then your employer owes you money for any overtime or double time you were not paid for going back up to four years.

You are entitled to 10 minute paid rest breaks and 30 minute unpaid meal breaks.  

Your employer must create conditions that allow you to take a 10 minute uninterrupted paid rest break if you work at least 3.5 hours and a second rest break if you work at least a total of 7 hours.   Your employer must also create conditions that allow you an uninterrupted 30 minute unpaid lunch break if you work more than 5 hours in a day and two such meal breaks if you work more than 10 hours per day.

This means that if you work an 8 hour day — your employer must give you a 10 minute uninterrupted paid rest break after about 2 hours of work, an unpaid uninterrupted 30 minute lunch break after about 4 hours of work, and another uninterrupted paid 10 minute rest break after about 6 hours of work.

Many employers don’t provide rest breaks, provide their employees shorter rest or meal breaks than required by law, and/or interrupt the meal or rest break with work duties. If in any day a full uninterrupted meal break was not made available to you, then you are entitled to an extra one hour compensation for each day this happened going back up to four years.  Meal and rest break violations are significant source of recovery for employees.

Your employer cannot retaliate against you if you complain about pay violations.

Your employer cannot retaliate, or threaten to retaliate against you, because you complained about an unlawful practice.  Sometimes employers claim that they will report an employee to INS and get him or her deported.  This is also unlawful and, in the vast majority of cases, an empty threat.  Some employers may simply fire you as revenge for bringing up violations of pay laws but such wrongful termination entitles you to additional money from the employer for violating your rights.

Your employer must cover you with workers’ compensation insurance.

Your employer must buy workers’ compensation insurance for you that covers you if you get hurt at work.  You are entitled to get all of your medical care expenses and part of your lost salary while you are recovering from the work injury covered through this insurance.  If your employer did not offer you workers’ compensation insurance, you can sue your employer for your injuries even if the work injury was mostly your own fault.

You may be surprised by the amount of money that your employer may owe you and how well the law protects your rights regardless of your immigration status.

We Can Help You

The law firm of Venardi Zurada LLP provides free consultations throughout the San Francisco/California. We are experienced employment lawyers  who fight hard for our clients.  If we are able to take your case, we pay all litigation costs. We only get paid our costs and attorneys’ fees if you receive compensation.



If you are an employee who feels their rights have been violated, or you need help negotiating or reviewing your employee contract, please call to speak to one of our expert employment law attorneys at (925) 937-3900 or submit the form to the right.

When litigation or mediation is involved, and we are able to take your case, there is never any fee or expense to you of any kind until you get paid! That means we pay all litigation costs which you will not be required to pay back, and we only get paid if you get paid.

We have four offices to serve you in Oakland, Orinda, Redding and Chico, and serve clients throughout the entire California including the entire Silicon Valley and throughout California.












1418 Lakeside Drive
Oakland, CA 94612
PH: (510) 832-4295
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FX: (510) 832-4364

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Orinda, CA 94563
PH: (925) 937-3900
FX: (925) 937-3905

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Redding, CA 96001
PH: (530) 830-FIRE

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Chico, CA 95928
PH: (530) 830-3473

The arbitrator found overwhelmingly in Phoenix Logistics’ favor and awarded approximately $4,800,000 in damages. The farm is alive and well thanks to a never to be forgotten experience with a unique law firm."

-Ray Bellefeuille,
President, Phoenix Logistics Inc.