Labor Laws California

Labor laws in California are important to understand no matter what kind of business you run. CalChamber and HRCalifornia are trustworthy resources for important issues surrounding human resources and employment laws in California. Common topics include employee compensation and sexual harassment. These topics and others can cause headaches for employers of all sizes when ensuring proper legal compliance.

California Employment Law and HR Topics

HRCalifornia is a helpful tool for employers seeking advice on labor laws in California as well as finding resources on policies for employees and the human resources department.

California Labor Law: Where to Begin

Your human resources team, no matter what size, is not only important in upholding California's employment laws, but also in implementing appropriate policies for your company. Your HR team should effectively communicate existing and new policies to employees as well as handle benefits, hiring, and termination practices.

Helping You Understand California Employment Law on HR California

HRCalifornia's HR Library has comprehensive guides according to topic. They are helpful to HR department members as well as management. Topics cover labor laws in California, including:

  • Time off
  • Compensation
  • Benefits
  • Health/safety
  • Discrimination

Overtime Pay

California offers more beneficial rules to employees compared to federal standards.

Independent Contractors

It's important to understand how to correctly classify someone as an independent contractor rather than an employee.

Exempt and Nonexempt Employees

Misclassifying nonexempt employees has commonly led to class action lawsuits in California, so be sure to understand the intricacies of exempt versus nonexempt employees.

Meal and Rest Breaks

Another common source of litigation against employers in California surrounds proper meal and rest breaks for employees. Be sure to properly communicate the rights of nonexempt employees and ensure they're taking the appropriate breaks.

Calculating Work Hours/Travel Time

There are several state and federal laws surrounding how to count and record working hours in an appropriate manner. In some cases, traveling, education, and training opportunities count as working hours for employees.

Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and California Family Rights Act (CFRA)

Ensure that your business is in compliance with both federal and California law regarding medical or family leave.

Sexual Harassment

Training employees about preventing sexual harassment is an important matter in any work environment. Work to educate employees on what exactly sexual harassment is and how they can help to prevent it.

Employee Handbook

An employee handbook is an essential resource to help communicate HR policies to employees, both in terms of their legal rights and their responsibilities.

Drug and Alcohol Testing

Employers have the right to drug test employees, but it must be done in the proper manner.

Employee Termination

It's vital for employers to terminate employees in a manner that is fully compliant with labor laws in California and their own internal policies.


COBRA stands for Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act insurance​​​​, which is a group plan for health insurance allowing qualified beneficiaries to retain coverage in certain situations.

Helping Employees Understand California Law

Just as important as complying to California employment laws is communicating them to your employees. A great way to do this is with an employee handbook, which also outlines your own internal HR policies. Certain posters and notices are also required to be put up in places that are easy for employees to see.

California Labor Laws – Wage and Hour

Minimum wage and other protective laws are set by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) as well as specific California laws. Currently, the pay rate for minimum wage in California for employers with at least 26 employees is $10.50 per hour. For California employers with less than 26 employees, the hourly rate is $10.00. If an employer does not adhere to these wage standards, they'll not only be required to pay liquidated damages to the employee, but also penalties on top of that. Liquidated damages refer to monetary compensation for any losses incurred due to being paid less than the current minimum wage.

Unless exempt, employers must also pay their employees overtime in accordance with labor laws in California. For an employee who works more than 40 hours per workweek, overtime equals 1.5 times their usual pay rate. This rate also applies to an employee who works 12 hours in a single workday, or the initial eight hours that an employee works on the seventh day in a row.

After working 12 hours in a work day, or after working eight hours on the seventh day in a row, then the employee's pay rate jumps to two times his or her usual rate.

If working more than five hours in a row, labor laws in California dictate that employees must receive a break for meals lasting at least 30 minutes. If your company is in the motion picture industry, this can sometimes be bumped up to a break after six hours.

The break for meals should be counted as time worked and paid unless the employee doesn't have to perform any work duties and is allowed to go off-site.

An "on-duty" meal break is only allowed by employers if the employee's duties can't be stopped because of the type of work involved. In this case, there must be an agreement written up and agreed to by both parties in advance.

In some cases, non-exempt employees must also receive 10 minutes of paid rest in four-hour increments. If an employee's total work time for the days is less than 3.5 hours, they aren't entitled to a rest period.

Additionally, it's common for employers to provide their workers with vacation, paid time off, holidays, sick time, and other paid leave as part of their benefits package. Labor laws in California dictate that employees be able to be paid during sick leave and receive insurance benefits while they're taking paid time off. The law also allows for employees to take unpaid leave in certain situations.

Vacation Leave

Vacation benefits are not a legal requirement in California, both paid and unpaid. However, if you do as an employer decide to offer your employees any type of vacation leave, you do have to comply with your policy and the specifics of the employee's contract.

When offering paid vacation, California employers do have specific requirements they must adhere to. For example, when an employee leaves, no matter what the reason, he or she must be paid for all vacation time that has been earned but not used. An employer can, however, place a maximum on the amount of vacation hours an employee can cash out on. A "use-it-or-lose-it" rule may not be used, according to labor laws in California.

Sick Leave

Sick leave is almost always required in California. Sick leave policies are governed by a variety of laws, including the State Disability Insurance program in California, the Paid Family Leave program, the California Family Rights Act, and the Medical Leave Act. Employers are required to give employees paid sick leave as long as they have worked 30 days or more over the last year. The rate for sick leave accrual is as follows: one hour for every 30 hours worked. The state limit is up to 48 hours (six days) of paid sick leave, but employers are allowed to limit this to just 24 hours per year for each employee. In addition to taking sick leave for their own medical needs, employees can also use this time to help care for a member of their family.

Holiday Leave

Holiday leave is not required of private employers in California, whether paid or unpaid. Employees may be required to work on holidays as long as the employer is private and meets all the company policies and terms of the employee contracts.

Jury Duty Leave

Employees do not have to be paid for time they spend at jury summons or serving on jury duty. However, employers are required to allow employees to take the necessary time off to serve on jury duty and can't implement any type of retaliation.

Voting Leave

Employers must give their employees enough time off to vote, but they don't have to pay any more than two hours. Employees have certain responsibilities in this scenario, including providing the employer with a minimum of three days advance notice of their plans to leave work to vote. The employer must post these voting rights laws in a highly visible place at least ten days before the election.

Bereavement Leave

There is no California law mandating that employers offer any type of bereavement leave for their employees. Again, if you do choose to offer bereavement or funeral leave, you are legally required to comply with any of your policies that you've stated to employees.

Severance Pay

Severance pay is not required by California law. If you choose to offer severance, you must make sure it's in accordance with the employee's contract and your company's policy.

California Employment Law Basics

Both California labor laws and federal labor laws are intended to protect employees throughout the hiring process and all the way to being discharged from a job.

Paid Disability and Family Leave

In the event an employee is unable to work temporarily because of a disability -- and is eligible for the program -- he or she should receive 55 percent of their untaxed paycheck. This program also allows for six weeks of leave following the addition of a new child or in order to care for family who is considered seriously ill.

Military Leave

Employers are required by both federal and state law to let employees take leave in order to serve in either the federal or state military. These rights are protected by California military leave law and the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act.

Family and Medical Leave

Twelve weeks of unpaid time off must be available to employees each year to be used in times of illness or caregiving. This law only applies to employers of 50 workers or more and is set forth in both federal law (the Family and Medical Leave Act -- FMLA) and state law (the California Family Rights Act -- CFRA).

Military Family Leave

According to the FMLA, employees are also entitled to a maximum of 26 weeks of unpaid leave to help take care of a family member who has been gravely injured during their active military duty. In California, employees are also allowed to take time off if a spouse is on leave during a deployment.

Pregnancy Disability Leave

Employees may take as much as four months off from work due to a temporary disability related to pregnancy.

Domestic Violence Leave

Employees also have the right to use time off to help deal with domestic violence issues, including (but not limited to):

  • Getting a restraining order
  • Seeking medical treatment
  • Going to counseling
  • Implementing any type of safety planning, like moving

Time Off for School Activities

If your company has 25 employees or more, workers are allowed to leave up to 40 hours each year to attend school activities with their children.

California Laws Against Discrimination and Harassment

There are several labor laws surrounding discrimination and harassment, both at the state and federal levels, and an in-depth understanding can help avoid litigation. Federal legal rights prevent employers from discriminating through the hiring process based on:

  • Race, color, or national origin
  • Religion
  • Gender or pregnancy status
  • Age
  • Disability or other genetic information

Additionally, the California Laws Against Discrimination and Harassment are aimed at companies with 15 or more employees and bans discrimination throughout the entire employment process, such as job postings, promotion decisions, benefits, discipline, reviews, and termination.

On top of federal standards against discrimination, California adds the following protections: marital status, medical conditions, sexual orientation, political persuasion, gender identity, and domestic violence status. These laws must be implemented by any employer with five or more employees.

If you need help with labor laws in California, you can post your job on UpCounsel's marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers, many with state-specific expertise.