Most workers in California can count 40 hours as a work week. But that doesn't mean that the state limits the number of hours an employer can require of an employee. The 40-hour work week is related just to overtime. That is, whether a worker regularly puts in four 10-hour days or five 8-hour days, once they clock those 40 hours, California overtime law kicks in.
California law requires that employers pay employees overtime for any hours in excess of a normal workday or workweek. Overtime rates are either 150 percent or 200 percent of the employee's normal hourly wage.
California Overtime Law
Generally, overtime pay is one and one-half times (150 percent) the employee's regular rate of pay. It must be paid for all hours worked over eight hours in a workday up to and including 12 hours. This overtime rate must also be paid for the first eight hours of work on a seventh consecutive day of work in one workweek.
However, some overtime must be paid at twice the employee's normal hourly wage. Double pay is required for all hours an employee works in one workday over 12 hours. Double pay is also mandated for all hours worked in excess of eight on the seventh consecutive day of work in a workweek.
Exceptions to Eight-Hour Workday Rule
Normally, overtime is based on normal workdays of eight hours and/or normal workweeks of 40 hours. If a normal workday for an employee is eight hours, every hour over those eight hours must be paid at 150 percent of the regular hourly wage. If the employee is normally paid $14 an hour and works five days a week, eight hours a day, any hour over eight hours in a workday must be paid out at time-and-a-half, or, in this example, $21. If they are asked to work a 10-hour day, employees will be paid $14 an hour for the first eight hours, then $21 an hour for the extra two hours.
However, California labor law makes an exception for employees who have regular workdays that exceed eight hours if the regular workweek totals 40 hours or less. That means that an employee who is regularly scheduled to work 10-hour shifts over a four-day workweek does not get overtime. Likewise, an employee with a fixed schedule of three 12-hour shifts will not get overtime. But if either of these employees are asked to work a few more hours on a day they do not usually work, all of the hours for that extra day would have to be paid overtime.
This means that California overtime can either be calculated on a daily basis or a weekly basis. That is, if a worker normally works three 8-hour shifts, they are entitled to overtime if they are pressed into service for an extra two hours one day because of an emergency. It does not matter that the total time worked in the week is less than 40 hours.
California Does Not Limit Work Hours
California labor law does not limit the number of hours an employer can require an employee to work. Employers in the state normally have the right to set employees' schedules and, if a worker is not happy with the shift pattern, they are free to quit.
If the employer sets a work schedule of four consecutive 10-hour days or three 12-hour days, the employee must either agree to these terms or find another job. Generally, the employer cannot mix these shift work schedules at will, or the employee will be within their rights to claim overtime for hours over eight in any one day. However, it is permissible for the employer to set up a rotating shift schedule that alternates on a regular basis, for example, one week with five eight-hour days of work and the next week with a different shift of four 10-hour days.
Salaried Employee Overtime Rates
It is easy to calculate overtime wages when workers are paid by the hour. But what about salaried workers and overtime? Many salaried workers are also eligible for overtime, but the employer must calculate the hourly rate first. Under California law, the employer must divide the employee's annual salary by 52 to arrive at the weekly salary, then divide that amount by 40 to arrive at their regular hourly wage.
What if the employee is paid a bonus? Is that included in the annual wages used to calculate hourly wage? It is if the bonus is not in the discretion of the employer – that is, if it is a nondiscretionary bonus that is either compensation for the hours worked or an incentive to remain with the same employer.
However, certain pay is not included in the calculation. This includes holiday gifts, reimbursements for expenses, vacation pay or sick leave, premium pay for Saturday, Sunday or holiday work if it is at least one and one-half times the rate for like work performed in regular hours, and discretionary bonuses.
Exempt Employees and Overtime
Only nonexempt employees are entitled to overtime in California. Exempt employees are those employees whose jobs are not subject to wage and hour laws. While federal and state laws contain a number of complex exemptions, in most cases there are three basic requirements for exemption in California:
- Receipt of Minimum Salary: The employee's salary must be at least twice the state minimum wage for full-time employment.
- Duties: The duties of the employee must largely consist of administrative, executive or professional matters.
- Discretion and Independent Judgment: The employee’s responsibilities must turn on the use of their own discretion and personal judgment.
Beyond these factors, some specific jobs are labeled as exempt. These include:
- Workers paid by commissions.
- Medical doctors.
- Teachers in private schools.
- Outside salespeople, truck drivers.
- Computer professionals.
- Union employees.
An exempt employee is not protected by California's wage laws. They are not entitled to rely on the state's minimum wage laws, laws about work breaks and meal breaks, or overtime.
Teo Spengler earned a JD from U.C. Berkeley Law School. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an MA and an MFA in English/writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.