Employee Rights California: A Comprehensive Guide

Explore this detailed guide on employee rights in California crafted by Waltman Employment Law to understand your workplace rights and legal protections.

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Understanding the Basic Employee Rights in California

Employees in the U.S. have certain rights and protections under federal and state laws. If an employer violates an employee’s legal rights, the employer could be held liable for any harm suffered by the employee and face strict penalties for their actions.

For the most part, the extent of an employee’s rights depends on the laws of the state where they work. If you are a California employee with questions about your rights at work, the information you need is right here.

This guide explains some of the most crucial California employee rights, ensuring you are well-informed about your workplace entitlements. By familiarizing yourself with these rights, you can empower yourself to address injustices and contribute to a more equitable working environment for everyone. 

Our seasoned employment law attorney at Waltman Employment Law can also provide personalized guidance and legal representation if you wish to understand or enforce your rights.

Please keep reading to learn more.

Your Most Important Rights as an Employee Under California Law

California labor laws provide for a comprehensive framework of employee rights to ensure the well-being, fair treatment, and safety of all employees in the state.

There are several types of employee rights under the law, but those highlighted below are considered the most important since they affect your daily life as a worker.

Minimum Wage

According to California labor laws, employees must receive at least the state’s minimum wage for every hour worked.

As of January 2024, the state minimum wage in California is $16.00 per hour. Some counties or cities have a higher minimum wage, but no county can lawfully go beyond the state minimum.

However, a few exceptions to this rule allow certain kinds of employees to be paid below the minimum wage. The exempt employees here include

  • Learners; that is, employees in the first 160 hours of working in an occupation in which they have no previous similar or related experience.
  • Individuals who are the parent, spouse, or child of the employer.

Overtime Wages

Generally, California employees are expected to work for a maximum of 8 hours a day or 40 hours weekly. They must not exceed those working hours unless their employer pays them overtime.

Overtime payments are calculated at

  • One-and-a-half times an employee’s regular pay rate for each extra hour worked.
  • Double their rate for any extra hours if they work more than 12 hours in a single shift or more than 8 hours on their seventh consecutive day of work.

However, there are certain exceptions to the general overtime law, which specify different payment parameters for the affected employees. An employment lawyer can explain how those exceptions work and whether they apply to you if you have concerns about your overtime payment calculations.

Meal and Rest Breaks

California employees have the right to take breaks during workdays in the following manner;

  • A 30-minute unpaid meal break period if the employee works more than five hours daily.
  • An additional 30-minute unpaid meal break if the employee works more than 10 hours daily.
  • Paid 10-minute rest breaks for every four hours of work.

This general rule applies unless a different rule is specified for the employee’s industry.

Relief From Discrimination

The California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) prohibits workplace discrimination against employees or potential employees based on 

  • Race
  • Color
  • Nationality 
  • Religion
  • Gender identity
  • Sexual orientation 
  • Disability
  • Age
  • Pregnancy status. 

Workplace discrimination and harassment often manifest through unjust dismissals, inequitable pay, biased promotions, or creating an environment of hostility.

Pregnant employees are a common target for this sort of discriminatory activity. However, the FEHA and other state laws, such as the California Family Rights Act (CFRA), provide for the protection of pregnant employees from wrongful termination, denial of deserved promotions, demotion, assignment of menial tasks, or compelled leave of absence and other acts of discrimination.

If you or someone you know has faced pregnancy discrimination, you can contact an experienced Pregnancy Discrimination Lawyer to help you understand the extent of your rights and how they may be enforced.

Safe Work Environment

Per the California Occupational Safety and Health Act, California employers are obligated to provide and maintain a safe and conducive workplace that fosters the health and well-being of their employees. 

The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH) is responsible for setting and enforcing safe work standards that employers must follow.

If your employer has endangered you and your co-workers by failing to prevent hazardous workplace situations or following the recommended safety practices and guidelines, you can file a complaint with the division.

California law also has extensive whistleblower provisions to safeguard you and other employees from retaliation if you report your employer for violating the law.

Leave Rights

By the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) and the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), California employees are entitled to a specific amount of unpaid, job-secure leave to seek medical care for themselves, provide care for a sick family member, or bond with a new child.

Employee Rights Exemptions

The above employee rights only apply to employees. Individuals who work as independent contractors do not qualify as employees, so they may be unable to benefit from these rights.

Also, certain categories of employees (known as exempt employees), such as executives, administrators, and professionals, who earn way above regular employees and occupy positions of authority in a business are exempt from specific employee rights provisions like rest breaks and overtime pay.

However, it could sometimes be difficult to tell the difference between exempt employees and non-exempt workers for the purpose of employee rights enforcement. In such cases, an experienced California employment law attorney can clarify the distinction between both categories and help those concerned determine where they belong and the specific rights they are entitled to.

Enforcing Your Employee Rights

If you believe your rights have been violated, the only way to get justice is to take steps to assess and enforce them. You’ll need to

  • Document the events, incidents, or behaviors you believe are violations. Include specific details like dates, times, locations, and potential witnesses.
  • Report the violation to your supervisor or HR, following workplace procedures. If unresolved, escalate concerns to state or federal employment agencies by filing a complaint.

In such instances, seeking guidance from an employment law attorney is a good idea. Your lawyer can advise you on your viable legal options and represent you as you present your case to the appropriate bodies. They can also file a lawsuit against your employer and work tirelessly to secure your rights at any level of the legal or judicial process.

Assert Your Employee Rights Today: Contact Waltman Employment Law

Even though employers appear to have the upper hand in most employment relationships, California law on employee rights provides a much-needed balance to ensure the well-being of employees in the state. Knowing and asserting these rights where necessary is crucial to ensure fair treatment in the workplace.

If your rights have been breached, it is understandable if you have misgivings about challenging your employer. That’s why having quality legal representation from a competent employment lawyer is essential in such cases.

At Waltman Employment Law, we are dedicated to safeguarding workers’ rights across several counties in Southern California. We are familiar with the intricacies of California labor laws and can provide top-notch legal representation and unwavering advocacy as you fight to uphold your rights.

If you believe your rights have been violated, we encourage you to contact us for a consultation. Let us assess your case and help you determine the next steps.