California Graveyard Shift Pay Laws

Working evening or overnight hours can increase a person’s risk for conditions like Type 2 diabetes and make it difficult to get enough sleep. Despite the risks, more than 15 million American workers with full-time jobs work alternative shifts, including evening and graveyard hours.

While some people work graveyard shifts because they prefer it or it’s the best job they can find, others choose these jobs for the night shift pay increase. Anyone considering taking a night shift job or hiring for such positions in California should know the state’s laws about this kind of work.

Night Shift Pay in California

When employers pay night shift workers higher wages than similar employees who work the day shift, this is called a pay differential. For example, a hospital may pay night shift nurses $10 more per hour to work overnight. The additional $10 is the differential.

There is no law that compels employers to pay a night shift differential in California. Furthermore, federal law does not require any employer to increase pay for night shift work. However, both state and federal laws set rules about overtime and split shifts, which sometimes affect people who work the graveyard shift.

Read More: California Labor Laws on Split Shift & Overtime

Overtime Pay Laws

Nonexempt employees in California are entitled to overtime pay if they work more than eight hours in a day or more than 40 hours in a week. Overtime pay must be at least 1 1/2 times the person’s regular hourly pay. Some types of employees are exempt from these overtime laws.

For example, someone who normally makes $20 per hour must make at least $30 per hour for any time that exceeds 40 hours per week or eight hours per day. Furthermore, nonexempt employees must earn double their hourly wages for any time worked after 12 hours in one day.

When calculating overtime pay, employers must use night shift pay if the overtime hours were worked overnight. For example, consider a worker whose base pay is $20 per hour with a $10-per-hour shift differential in California. If that worker has overtime hours during the night shift, the employer would pay $45 per hour.

Split Shift Pay Laws in California

California law defines a split shift as “a work schedule, which is interrupted by non-paid non-working periods established by the employer.” However, this does not include meal or rest breaks. For example, someone who works a night shift, goes home for a few hours, then returns for an afternoon shift may work a split shift that day.

When an employee works a split shift, the employer must give the person an additional hour’s worth of pay for that day. A 2011 California case clarified that a split shift does not include one that starts on one workday and ends on another if the shift is continuous. For example, if an employee comes to work at 8 p.m. and leaves at 4 a.m. with only a regular meal break, this is not considered a split shift.

Why Employers Choose Differential Pay

While laws do not require night differential pay in California, many employers choose to offer this benefit anyway. To understand why, it’s important to consider which kinds of industries typically offer night shifts. Health care, food service and transportation companies often rely on having workers around the clock.

While it may be easy enough for these companies to find people to work the day shifts, it can be a lot more difficult to fill night hours. To incentivize people to take these less desirable hours, employers offer higher pay to make the positions more desirable.

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