The California employment
law guide

The California labor laws every business owner should know

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Wages and breaks

California minimum wage laws

The minimum wage in California, effective January 1, 2024, is $16.00/hour for all employers. Fast Food Restaurant employers, effective April 1, 2024, and Healthcare Facility employers, effective June 1, 2024, will have a higher minimum wage. Some cities and counties have higher minimum wages than the state’s rate.

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Tipped min wage

There is no reduced minimum wage rate for tipped employees. They must be paid the standard minimum wage for hours worked.

Tips are considered to be the sole property of the employees. Employers are not allowed to deduct from them in any way, and they must give employees credit card tips no later than the first payday after the customer paid the tip.

Employers are allowed to require tip pooling, which consists of collecting all or part of tips received by employees into a pool and then redistributing them to employees based on a predetermined set of factors.

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California overtime laws

California state laws and federal labor law require that non-exempt employees be paid 1.5 times their regular rate of pay (or more, subject to the provisions below) for all hours worked over 40 in a workweek. The Fair Labor Standards Act also requires that employees be paid 1.5 times their regular rate of pay for all hours worked over 40 in a workweek.

The overtime law says that employers must pay daily overtime when the employee works between 8 and 12 hours in any workday or for the first 8 eight hours of work performed on the 7th consecutive workday in a workweek.

Employers must pay double time if an employee works more than 12 hours in a single workday and for every hour worked beyond the first 8 hours on the 7th consecutive day of work in a workweek.

California requires that most exempt white collar employees make double the state minimum wage on a monthly basis. For the 2020 calendar year, the minimum salary for exempt employees of employers with 26 or more employees will be $54,080 per year ($1,040 per week, or $4,506.67 per month). For employers with 25 or fewer employees, it will be $49,920 per year ($960 per week, or $4,160 per month). Municipal minimum wages do not affect these minimums – the calculation is always based on the state rate.The minimum salary for exempt computer professionals in 2020 is $96,968.33 per year or $46.55 per hour if paid on an hourly basis.

The federal overtime rule stipulates that the minimum salary requirement for administrative, professional, and executive exemptions is $684 per week, or $35,568 per year. Workers making at least this salary level may be eligible for overtime based on their job duties.

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30 min Per 5 hrs
California Meal breaks

Employers are required to provide no less than a 30-minute meal break during a shift that is longer than 5 consecutive hours.

The meal break must be counted as hours worked and paid at the regular rate of pay unless the employee is relieved of all duties and is free to leave the premises.

When the work period is six hours or fewer, the meal period may be waived by mutual consent of both the employer and employee.

When the work period is longer than 10 hours, a second meal period of at least 30 minutes must be provided.

If an employee works a total of 12 hours or fewer, the second meal period may be waived by mutual consent of the employer and the employee only ifthe first meal period was not waived.

If the nature of the work prevents relief from all duties, then the on-duty meal period must be compensated. If an employee is required to eat on the work site, the employer must provide a suitable place to consume a meal, as well as soap and water.

Employees may be required to stay on the employer’s premises to eat if they choose to purchase a discounted meal; the option of leaving the premises must be available if the meal is full price.

For each shift that a meal period is not provided, the employer must pay the employee for one additional hour of work at the employee’s regular rate. Example: An employee generally works from 8:30 am to 5:00 pm with a 30-minute unpaid meal period. If they are prevented from taking lunch and therefore work 8.5 hours, they must be paid for 9.5 hours. This extra hour of pay is considered a penalty rather than wages.

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10 min Paid per 4 hrs
California Rest breaks

Employees are entitled to one 10-minute rest period during each four-hour shift. A rest period is not required for an employee whose total daily work time is less than 3.5 hours.

Employers should provide a ten-minute break for a shift between 3.5 and 6 hours, a second 10-minute break for a shift lasting between 6 hours and 10 hours, and a third 10-minute break for a shift lasting between 10 and 14 hours.

Rest breaks should be provided as closely as practicable to the middle of the work period.

Employees working in extreme weather conditions must be given a five-minute break in a shaded or otherwise protected area as needed; this is considered a cool-down or recovery period, and must be offered in addition to other meal and rest breaks. This break must be paid.

For each day when an employee is required to work through one or both break periods, or is not provided with cool-down periods, the employer must pay the employee for one additional hour of work. This extra hour of pay is considered a penalty rather than wages.

Employers may require security guards and employees in safety-sensitive positions at petroleum facilities to be on call and onsite during breaks if they fall under collective bargaining agreements, and if they make above the standard minimum wage rate. Security guards must be paid more than $1 above minimum wage, and petroleum facility employees must make 30% more.

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Final paychecks in California

If an employee is discharged by the employer, the employer must pay all wages due at the time of the termination.

If an employee quits with at least 72 hours notice, the employer must pay all wages due at the time of quitting.

If an employee does not give at least 72 hours notice, the employer has 72 hours after the time of quitting to pay all wages due.

California child labor laws

Youth under the age of 18 must have a permit to work.

Youth 12 and 13 years old are generally only allowed to work on school holidays and during school vacation. They may not work on any school day, either before or after classes.

Fourteen and 15 year olds are also restricted on what times they can work and what kinds of jobs they can take. They are prohibited from taking any positions in manufacturing, workshops or factories, any position that requires working with machinery, on a railroad, and more.

Employers are not allowed to employ 16 and 17 year olds in any position that is determined to be hazardous according to the Code of Federal Regulations.

HR staff working for businesses with at least five workers and employ minors are designated by the state as mandated child abuse reporters. They must report any instances of sexual or physical abuse, unlawful injury, cruelty, neglect,  or unjustified punishment.

Frontline supervisors at businesses with at least five employees that also employ minors are also mandated child abuse reporters. However, they are only responsible for reporting sexual abuse.

Eligible businesses must train these employees on how to identify and report abuse.

Leave requirements

California sick days

California law requires employers to provide paid sick leave to most employees who have worked for 30 or more days.

Employees are to accrue one hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked, starting on their first day. Accrued sick leave must be allowed to be carried over from one year to the next, but employers can cap an employee’s total accrued sick leave at 48 hours.

The Kin Care Law was amended in 2020 allow employees to designate if they are taking their sick leave for personal or kin care. Employers need to modify their leave policies to inform their team that they can now designate the days themselves.

California Family and Medical Leave

The California Family Rights Act (CFRA) gives employees who have been employed with the business for more than 12 months the right to take up to 12 workweeks of unpaid leave in a 12-month period to bond with a newborn, adopted child, or foster child, care for an eligible family member with a serious health condition, or for their own serious health condition.

Effective July 1, 2020, the maximum duration of Paid Family Leave benefits an individual can receive will be increased from six to eight weeks.

Employers may be required to provide employees unpaid leave in accordance with the federal Family and Medical Leave Act.

In 2020, AB 2399 expanded the Family Temporary Disability Insurance program so that employees can use the program to take care of emergencies relating to family members on active duty in the military.

Learn more about the expansion of paid leave here.

As of 2022, the definition of “family member” includes parents-in-law, meaning if an employee’s mother- or father-in-law has a serious health condition that requires them to be taken care of, the employee can legally take the leave to do so.

California bereavement leave

Employers that have five or more employees are required to provide employees with up to five days of bereavement leave for the death of a family member. For purposes of bereavement leave, family member is defined as a spouse, child, parent, sibling, grandparent, grandchild, domestic partner, or parent-in-law. The law doesn’t allow employers to cap how many times an employee can take bereavement leave. To be entitled to bereavement leave, an employee must have worked for the employer for at least 30 days before taking leave. The days of leave don’t have to be consecutive but must be taken within three months of the family member’s death.

California vacation time

California does not require employers to provide leave, but if an employer does establish a paid vacation policy, all unused vacation days must be paid out to an employee upon separation from employment.

California holiday leave

California does not require employers to provide leave.

California Jury Duty Leave

Employers are not required to pay an employee for time used to comply with a jury summons, but employers may not penalize an employee for taking time off to comply with a jury summons if reasonable notice is given.

California voting time

Employers are required to give employees up to two hours of time off to vote.

Employees must give employers at least three days notice of their intention to take time off to vote.

California domestic violence or sexual assault leave

Any employee who is the victim of domestic violence has the right to take time off from work to get help to protect their own or their children’s health, safety or welfare, including taking time off to get a restraining order or other court order.

All employees must be allowed use available vacation, personal leave, accrued paid sick leave or compensatory time off for this leave unless they are covered by a collective bargaining agreement that says something different.

Employers with 25 or more employees must also allow victims to take time off from work to get medical attention or services from a domestic violence shelter, program or rape crisis center, psychological counseling, or receive safety planning related to domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking.

Employers have a limited right to ask for proof of the need for leave under these circumstances, but can require it if an employee missed work without any advance notice. Proof can be a police report, court order or doctor’s or counselor’s note or similar document.

California emergency response leave

Employers must allow their employees to take leave to perform emergency duties as a volunteer firefighter, a reserve peace officer, or emergency rescue personnel. Employers may not discharge or discriminate against an employee for taking such leave.

Employers with 50 or more employees must allow their employees to take up to 14 days of unpaid leave for training as a volunteer firefighter, a reserve peace officer, or emergency rescue personnel.

California Organ and Bone Marrow donation leave

Employers with 15 or more employees must provide paid and unpaid leave to employees for organ donation and paid leave for bone marrow donation (whether or not such employees have used up available sick leaves).

The annual maximum is 60 business days for organ donation; the first 30 business days must be paid and after that up to 30 days may be taken unpaid. Employee are entitled to five paid business days for bone marrow donation.

The employer may require the employee to use up to 15 days of accrued paid time off for organ donation leave and up to five days of accrued paid time off for the entire bone marrow donation leave. (Note: The employer must pay for the employee’s entire bone marrow donation leave, and up to 30 days of organ donation leave, even if the employee has exhausted their paid time off prior to taking leave.)

The employer may request the employee to provide a written certified doctor’s note stating that the individual is an organ or bone marrow donor and that there is a medical necessity for the donation.

California School leave

California has two types of school leave. Leave for disciplinary matters must be provided to all employees, regardless of the size of the employer. This provides unpaid time off for employees who are parents or guardians of school-age children who need to attend meetings or hearings related to disciplinary measures being considered or taken against the child. Employers may not discipline or discharge an employee for taking this type of leave.

Employers that have at least 25 employees in a single location must also offer leave for general school involvement. An employee can take up to 40 hours per calendar year to enroll a child in a school or daycare, participate in activities, or address an emergency.

The employee may be required to use paid leave to cover these absences, if available. If paid time is not available, they must be allowed to take unpaid time.

California Military Leave

Employees must grant leave to employees who are a member of the California or United States Armed Forces or engage in military duties for active service in the National Guard. After their service, the employee is entitled to return to their position or a position with similar status, pay, and benefits. For one year, the employer may not discharge the employee without cause.

Members of the reserve corps of the US armed forces, reserve corps of the National Guard, or Naval Militia are entitled to 17 days of unpaid leave. Members of the state military reserve are entitled to 15 days of unpaid leave.

Employers that have 25 or more employees must allow the spouse of a military service member to take up to 10 days of unpaid leave when the service member is on leave from deployment during a military conflict. To be eligible, the spouse must work at least 20 hours a week on average. Employers may not retaliate against the spouse for requesting or taking the leave.

Hiring and firing

California Anti-Discrimination Law

Federal law makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate on the basis of: Race, Color, Age, Sex, Sexual orientation, Gender, Gender identity, Religion, National origin, Pregnancy, Genetic information, including family medical history, Physical or mental disability, Child or spousal support withholding, Military or veteran status, Citizenship and/or immigration status.

Under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, it is illegal for employers to discriminate due to race (including racial discrimination and harassment based upon a person’s natural hairstyle), religion, color, national origin, ancestry, physical disability, mental disability, medical condition, genetic information, marital status, gender, gender identity and expression, age, sexual orientation, veteran status, and reproductive health decisions.

Read our article to find out what you can and cannot ask during a job interview according to federal law.

As of January 1, 2021, employees have 1 year instead of 6 months to file a complaint of discriminatory discharge regarding any law the Labor Commissioner enforces.

California Termination Law

California is an “at-will employment” state, which means that without a written employee contract, employees can be terminated for any reason at any time.

California record keeping laws

Business with at least 100 employees must submit a “pay data report” to the Department of Fair Employment and Housing no later than March 31, 2021. They must do so annually moving forward.

In the pay data report, employees must include:

  • A breakdown of employees by ethnicity, race, and gender in the following categories:
    • Executive or senior level officials and managers
    • First or mid-level officials and managers
    • Professionals
    • Technicians 
    • Sales workers 
    • Administrative support workers 
    • Craft workers; Operatives 
    • Laborers and helpers
    • Service workers
  • A breakdown of employee compensation by race, ethnicity, and sex in one of 11 pay bands used by US Bureau of Labor Statistics
  • Total hours worked by every employee within a specific pay band during the reporting year.

Regarding employment and payroll data, under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and others, you must:

For at least 3 years: keep payroll records, certificates, agreements, notices, collective bargaining agreements, employment contracts, and sales and purchase records. Also keep completed copies of each employee’s I-9 for three years after they are hired. If the employee works longer than three years, hold on to the form for at least one year after the employee leaves.

For at least 2 years: Keep basic employment and earning records like timecards, wage-rate tables, shipping and billing records, and records of additions to or deductions from wages. Also keep the records that show why you may pay different wages to employees of different sexes, such as wage rates, job evaluations, seniority and merit systems, and collective bargaining agreements.

For at least 1 year: The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says employers should keep all employment records for at least one year from the employee’s date of termination.

Other record-keeping laws that may apply to you:

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, you need to keep records of job-related injuries and illnesses for five years. But some records, like those covering toxic substance exposure, have to be kept for 30 years.

You must keep files of benefit plans and seniority and merit systems while they are in effect and for at least a year after they end. You must also retain summary descriptions and annual reports of benefits plans for six years.

If your company is covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act, you must also retain relevant records of leaves, notices, policies, and more for three years.

Additional laws that may apply to you.

COVID-19 vaccines

Employees of health and human services facilities must receive a vaccine. State employees, as well as those of private and public schools, must be fully vaccinated or undergo weekly COVID-19 testing. 

California Background Check laws

Background checks are subject to the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act. Employers who run background checks should ensure they’re following the requirements of the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

California requires that employers conduct background checks on those working at facilities that provide day care for children, residential care for the elderly, or community care, as well as those working for a transportation network company.

California Credit and Investigative Check Laws

Employers may not obtain a credit report on an applicant or employee, except for in certain circumstances.

California Arrest and Conviction Check Laws

It is illegal for any employer with five or more employees to include on any application for employment any question that asks about an applicant’s conviction history. Additionally, it is illegal to inquire into or consider the conviction history of an applicant until that applicant has received a conditional offer of employment. It is also illegal to consider, distribute, or disseminate information related to arrests, diversions, and convictions.

An employer who ultimately acquires an applicant’s criminal history and intends to deny them the job must conduct an individual assessment that should determine whether the applicant’s conviction history has a direct and adverse relationships with specific duties of the job as well as the following: the nature and gravity of the offense or conduct; the time that has passed since the offense or conduct and completion of the sentence; and the nature of the job.

If the employer makes a preliminary decision that the applicant’s conviction history disqualifies them from the job, they must notify the applicant in writing and allow them five days to respond. The notification must contain the following: Notice of the disqualifying conviction or convictions that are the basis for the preliminary decision to rescind the offer. A copy of the conviction history report, if any. An explanation of the applicant’s right to respond to the notice of the employer’s preliminary decision before that decision becomes final and the deadline by which to respond. The explanation must inform the applicant that the response may include submission of evidence challenging the accuracy of the conviction history report that is the basis for rescinding the offer, evidence of rehabilitation or mitigating circumstances, or both.

California Drug and Alcohol Testing Laws

Whether employers may test their applicants or employees for drugs or alcohol is determined on a case-by-case basis.

If using drug or alcohol tests, we recommend following these practices: only use drug or alcohol tests for applicants if they are job related and consistent with business necessity, use a drug or alcohol test for applicants only after making a job offer and before their first day of work, screen all applicants for the same position, only use drug or alcohol tests for employees based on an individualized suspicion of use, if the employee is in a safety-sensitive position, or if testing is required by federal law, and use a certified laboratory or a licensed physician to conduct the drug test.

California COBRA Laws

COBRA is a federal law that allows many employees to continue their health insurance benefits after their employment ends. Because federal COBRA only applies to employers that have 20 or more employees, many states have adopted their own versions of the law, which are known as “mini-COBRAs.” California’s mini-COBRA allows employees to continue their coverage for up to 36 months. We recommend that employers inform an employee of their COBRA rights as soon as a triggering event occurs.

California Whistleblower Protection Laws

Employers may not discharge, discriminate, or retaliate against an employee for the following: because the employee reported what they reasonably believe is a violation of law to a manager, supervisor, or another employee who can investigate the violation, because the employee reported a fraudulent claim or other record to a governmental agency, because the employee filed a complaint under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) or participated in a FEHA proceeding, or because the employee filed a complaint or participated in a proceeding regarding workplace safety. In addition, employers may not have a policy that prevents an employee from reporting a violation of the law.

California Independent Contractor ABC Test

A worker may be classified as an independent contractor only if all of the following elements are satisfied:

A. The person if free from the control and direction of the hiring entity in connection with the performance of the work, both under the contract for the performance of the work and in fact.

B. The person performs work that is outside the usual course of the hiring entity’s business.

C. The person is customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, or business of the same nature as that involved in the work performed.

The “Save Local Journalism Act” exempts newspaper publishers from adhering to the test until January 1, 2022.

California Reporting Pay Time Law

The Reporting Time Pay Law requires employers to pay employees “reporting time” pay when an employee reports for work at a scheduled time but is not put to work or is given less than half of a usual shift.

California Employer Use of Social Media

The “Employer Use of Social Media law” restricts California employers from requesting employees to provide their password information to access their social media accounts.

Employers are prohibited from requiring or requesting an employee or job applicant to disclose his or her social media username or password, to access his or her personal social media in the presence of the employer, or to divulge any personal social media information.

The law also prohibits an employer from discharging, disciplining, threatening to discharge or discipline, or otherwise retaliating against an employee or applicant for not complying with a request or demand for access to the employee’s personal social media.

California Split shift premium pay

Workers who earn the minimum wage or close to it are entitled to additional pay known as a “split shift premium” when their schedule includes a split shift. A split shift is a work schedule that is interrupted by non-paid and non-working time periods as required by the employer. Breaks longer than an hour likely will be seen as a split shift. If an employee requests the break for their own convenience, that does not create a split shift.

Employees who make the minimum wage are entitled to one hour of pay for a split shift. Employees who are paid more than minimum wage may be due a split shift premium, but the amount they make over minimum wage will count toward the premium.

California Day of rest law

Employers may not require employees to work more than six days in a workweek, unless the nature of the employment reasonably requires doing so. If working more than six days in a workweek is reasonably required, employees must be guaranteed at least the equivalent of one in seven workdays off during the same calendar month.

California Employee monitoring law

Employers may not make any audio or video recordings in a location where an employee would have a reasonable expectation of privacy (e.g., restroom, locker room, or other room designated for employees to change clothes). As a best practice, employers who intend to make any kind of audio or video recording should make employees aware of this practice in writing upon hire.

With respect to telephonic recording, California requires the consent of all partiesbeing recorded.

The California Constitution also limits an employer’s right to conduct workplace inspections and searches. Employers who intend to conduct searches in the workplace, or wish to reserve their right to do so, should ensure that employees have written notice of the possibility of a search or inspection, and should indicate what might be searched (e.g., desk, locker, purse). California has strong privacy protections which should be weighed against an employer’s legitimate business needs in conducting a search or inspection.

California Telephone Monitoring Law

California is an “all parties” consent state, meaning every person on a phone call must be aware that they are being monitored or recorded and have consented by placing or continuing the phone call. This means employers may monitor or record phone calls between their own employees only if each employee has been given notice that phone calls may be monitored or recorded. However, phone calls placed by employees to outside parties may not be monitored or recorded unless the outside party has also consented.

California Sexual Harassment Training Law

The state of California currently requires mandatory sexual harassment and abusive conduct prevention training for supervisors working for employers with 50 or more employees. California-based supervisors must be trained every two years. New supervisors must be trained within six months of assuming the position.

By January 1, 2021, all employees working for employers with five or more employees will need to be trained. Supervisors must receive two hours of training once every two years, while non-supervisory employees must receive one hour of training once every two years.

COVID-19 exposure reporting

AB 654 modifies existing COVID-19 reporting legislation. The new law stipulates that employers have either 1 business day or 48 hours (whichever is later) to report virus outbreaks among their employees.

To be compliant, employers must give written notice to all employees who were possibly exposed to the virus on-site and local public health agencies.

Employers with multiple locations only need to notify workers at the site of the outbreak.

Warehouse distribution center wage and hours

Employers with large warehouse distribution centers (those with 100+ workers in one location or 1000+ workers in the state) must provide written descriptions of all required quotas employees are responsible for.

Quotas can include:

  • How many tasks need to be completed within a period of time
  • Materials that need to be produced/managed in a day or workweek

Employers must also provide a written description for penalties around not meeting quotas. If a quota is not disclosed to the employee, they cannot be punished for not meeting it.

Employers cannot punish workers for not meeting quotas that prevent them from taking breaks or interfere with OSHA laws.

Silenced No More Act

The Silenced No More Act prohibits employers from requiring non-disclosure clauses for all forms of workplace harassment or discrimination settlements, not just sex. However, the law does not prevent non-disclosure clauses for the settlement money paid.

Non-disparagement clauses are also limited. If a provision like this is included in a written policy or procedure, it must include the following:

“Nothing in this agreement prevents you from discussing or disclosing information about unlawful acts in the workplace, such as harassment or discrimination or any other conduct that you have reason to believe is unlawful.”

Recordkeeping requirements

Employers must maintain employee AND applicant personnel records for a minimum of 4 years. However, if an employee files a complaint with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), employers must keep all related records until they receive notice that the agency resolved the issue.

Food delivery tip distribution

Food delivery platforms may not keep tips. The person delivering the items must receive all tips and any tips paid for a pickup order must be paid fully to the food establishment.

Food delivery platforms also cannot charge a higher rate than what the food establishment sets.


California Lactation accommodation Law

California law requires every employer to make accommodations for lactating employees, including providing time and space to express breast milk during the workday. The location provided must be clean, safe and free of hazards, have a place to sit and a surface to place personal items, have access to electricity or charging devices, and must not be a bathroom.

The employer must also provide access to a sink with running water and suitable refrigeration close to the employee’s workspace.

Compliance Calendar

Get our Compliance Calendar to stay on top of deadlines throughout the year: View it on your computer. Click + Google Calendar in the lower right to add it to your Google Calendar and subscribe to all updates. You can also download a calendar (.ics) file that you can import into iCal or Outlook, or download a PDF to your computer.

COVID-19 Resources

View the resources available to California business owners and workers impacted by the coronavirus outbreak in our state-by-state COVID-19 Resource Center.

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This summary is not qualified legal advice. Laws are always subject to change, and they can vary from municipality to municipality. It’s up to you to make sure you’re compliant with all laws and statutes in your area. If you need more compliance help, we recommend consulting with a qualified lawyer, checking with your local government agencies, or signing up for Homebase to get help from our certified HR Pros.