What is California's Law on Overtime Hours

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When it comes to overtime pay, California sets a fairly generous example. Most traditional employees – from hourly to salaried workers – are entitled to receive time-and-a-half after an eight-hour workday or a 40-hour workweek, and the legal protections extend well beyond those basic rules.

The West Coast is often held up as a banner of progressive laws, and in the case of long work hours and overtime pay, the state of California holds that banner particularly high. With characteristically employee-friendly rules on the books in the state's Labor Codes, overtime hours apply on both a daily and weekly basis in California, whether an employee works for an hourly wage or earn a salary.

TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)

According to California labor laws, overtime for most workers kicks in after eight hours in a single workday or 40 hours in a single workweek.

Overtime Work in California: Hours

In the state of California, nonexempt employees age 18 and over – the category to which most hourly and salaried workers belong – are prohibited by law from working more than 40 hours in a single workweek or eight hours in a single workday, unless they are paid a state-mandated overtime rate. This same rule applies to minor employees, aged 16 or 17, who are not required to attend school or are not otherwise legally prohibited from engaging in work.

According to the California's Department of Industrial Relations, a workday is defined under California Labor Code Section 500 as a "consecutive 24-hour period beginning at the same time each calendar day, but it may begin at any time of day." When counting hours for overtime, averaging those hours over two or more workdays is not allowed.

A workweek under the Labor Code is defined as "any seven consecutive days, starting with the same calendar day each week beginning at any hour on any day, so long as it is fixed and regularly occurring." With a total of seven consecutive 24-hour days, a standard workweek is 168 hours long. California law allows the employee's workweek to change only if that change is intended to be permanent; it's illegal for an employer to change an employee's workweek for the purpose of avoiding overtime obligations.

Overtime Pay in California

So what happens, pay-wise, when an employee passes that 40-hour workweek or eight-hour workday mark in California? They are legally entitled to time and a half, or one and a half times, the regular rate of pay for all hours worked in excess of those eight- or 40-hour milestones. But that's not where the pay rate increases end.

If a California employee exceeds 12 hours of labor in any single workday or more than eight hours on a seventh consecutive workday in a single workweek, that employee is owed double the regular rate of pay for those excess hours.

The "regular rate of pay" – a term crucial to the discourse on overtime laws in California – is not limited to an hourly wage. In legal terms, this phrase refers to the compensation you normally earn for the work performed, which may include an hourly wage, regular salary, piecework earnings or even commissions. In California, the regular rate of pay cannot be less than the current minimum wage, which in 2019 is $11 per hour for employers with 25 or fewer employees or $12 per hour for those with more employees. These rates are set to increase by $1 in 2020 and by another $1 each year in 2021 and 2022.

Unauthorized and Required Hours

California overtime laws have more than their fair share of interesting wrinkles, too. For instance, employees must receive that time-and-half rate for overtime hours whether or not the employer authorized those extra hours.

However, the employer can impose reasonable disciplinary measures if the employee in question violates the company's policy of overtime without authorization. Likewise, the employee cannot deliberately prevent the employer from discovering their overtime hours only to claim recovery pay down the line. And it just about goes without saying that the employee is required to keep accurate hourly records.

On the flip side, employers are legally allowed to require employees to work overtime, as they retain the right to dictate an employee's schedule and hours – they're even entitled to discipline or terminate an employee who refuses to work scheduled overtime hours. One exception here is that employees are able to refuse work on the seventh day of a workweek at their discretion.

Overtime Hours: Exemptions and Exceptions

Speaking of exceptions, California overtime laws are actually quite full of them. Most widely affected are certain categories of workers who are exempt from the protections of California's overtime laws including:

  • Executive, administrative and professional employees.
  • Hourly employees in the computer software field.
  • Employees of the state or any of its political subdivisions.
  • Outside salespersons.
  • Family (parents, spouses, children and legally adopted children) of the employer.
  • Drivers under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Transportation Code of Federal Regulation, Title 49.
  • Drivers under the jurisdiction of the California Code of Regulations, Title 13.
  • Taxicab drivers.
  • Ambulance drivers and attendants.
  • Airline employees.
  • Employees covered by a collective bargaining agreement.
  • Employees who earn more than 1.5 times the state minimum wage and more than half of their earnings from commissions (with the exception of minors).
  • Student nurses in schools accredited by the California Board of Registered Nursing or by the Board of Vocational Nurse and Psychiatric Technician Examiners.

  • Full-time carnival ride operators at traveling carnivals.

  • Crew persons on commercial fishing boats.
  • Professional actors and extras.
  • Employees who work exclusively as film projectionists.
  • News editors, chief engineers and announcers at TV and radio stations in cities or towns with populations at or below 25,000.
  • Personal attendants, including those employed at nonprofits.
  • Babysitters under the age of 18 supervising minor children in their employer's home.
  • Camp counselors.
  • Sheepherders.
  • Irrigators.
  • Ski establishment employees.

Other exceptions to overtime hour laws include employees subject to a legally valid alternative workweek schedule, which commonly includes healthcare workers, healthcare workers who reside at their place of employment, and other live-in employees.

Getting Paid for Overtime Hours

As stated in California Labor Code Section 204, employers are required to pay their employees overtime wages no later than the payday for the next regular payroll period after the employee earned those wages. If an employee is paid weekly, biweekly or monthly, your overtime earnings are due within seven calendar days following the close of the regular payroll period.

California does not allow employees to waive their rights to overtime compensation. If an employee worked overtime, even if they signed an agreement to work for a lesser wage, Labor Code Section 1194 says that the employer is required to pay the necessary overtime compensation.

Employees who have not received overtime pay owed to them may file a wage claim with the Labor Commissioner's Office at the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement. If they employee no longer works for that employer, he or she can make an additional claim for a waiting time penalty, as outlined in Labor Code Section 203.

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About the Author

As a freelance writer and small business owner with a decade of experience, Dan has contributed legal- and finance-oriented content to diverse sources including Chron, Fortune, Zacks.com, Motley Fool and MSN Money, among others.