Back California Labor and Employment Laws

California Labor and Employment Laws

Labor and employment laws play an important part of a civilized society. uring his introduction of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) of 1935, Senator Robert Wagner once said, “Democracy cannot work unless it is honored in the factory as well as the polling booth; men cannot truly be free in body and spirit unless their freedom extends into places where they earn their daily bread.” 

This declaration captures the essence of the various labor laws enacted during the past century. In a democracy, the principles of equality and the rule of law must be upheld, even in private contracts.

Therefore, whether you are an ordinary employee working for a  California-based employer who wants to know what rights you are entitled to as an employee, or an HR professional or a legal counsel tasked to ensure that the  California-based employer you are working for is compliant with labor laws to prevent exposing said employers to potential liabilities, learning about labor laws is essential. This article aims to provide you with an overview of labor laws in general, as well as laws enacted by the state of Delaware in particular. This article also provides the importance and purpose of these laws, and some frequently asked questions (FAQs).

What are the Labor Laws in  California?

 California employment law is a collection of state and federal labor laws. These laws include provisions for wage payment, minimum wage, child labor, and prevailing wages for state-funded construction projects.

Why are Labor Laws Important?

Boone (2015) noted that throughout the early 1900s, working conditions for the average American worker were fairly grim. Child labor was widespread, discrimination in the workplace was normalized, and working conditions were hazardous due to lack of safety regulations. Additionally, unions did not have sufficient protections from the federal government, which made it difficult for workers’ unions to bargain for improved working conditions. Thanks to social and legal shifts throughout the years, labor laws have created better conditions and rights for the American worker. 

Nonetheless, most employers today still exercise tremendous bargaining power over employees, especially at this time when employees’ collective power has dwindled over the years, with union density sitting at around 6.2% percent in the private sector.

Because of this unequal bargaining power, employers are known to have monopsony power. This means employers operate as wage setters rather than wage takers in the employment bargain. As a result, employers will tend to hire fewer workers (thereby leading to either under-employment or worse, unemployment) and those workers suffer lower pay and benefits as well as worse working conditions. Fewer workers also means that employers produce less output and can charge higher prices that harm consumers. Finally,  monopsony power also reduces economic productivity because employers are not competing over wages to lure workers into jobs that are the best match for their productivity and skills.

That is where labor laws come in. Over the course of the 20th century, federal and state laws have been enacted to address this problem of inequality of bargaining power. The aim of these federal laws are to provide social and economic rights for workers, with state laws going beyond such minimum rights by providing expanded rights and protections.

What is the Purpose of the Labor Law

Therefore, the primary purpose of labor law is to minimize, if not eliminate, the negative effects arising from the unequal power wielded by employers, and the inequality of bargaining power between employers and employees. Labor laws impose certain legal requirements on employers which cannot be the subject to negotiation or bargaining with employees. This means that since these requirements are imposed by law, employers have no choice but to comply or face possible civil and/or criminal sanctions from the government.

What is an example of Labor Law in  California?

One type of labor law that aims to temper the monopsony power of employers are those that prescribe minimum standards for benefits. An example of this is the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which requires employers to pay at least the federal minimum wage and overtime pay of 1.5x the regular rate of pay. FLSA also deals with how work hours are computed.

Another type of labor law that addresses monopsony power are those that impose minimum safety and health conditions in the workplace. An example of this is the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), which imposes on employers the general duty to provide their employees with a workplace free from recognized, serious hazards.

Labor law also governs workers’ compensation laws, which requires employers to pay compensation and medical benefits to employees who suffer work-related injuries or death. An example of this type of law is the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act (FECA), which pays compensation for the disability or death of a federal employee resulting from personal injury sustained while in the performance of duty.

There are also labor laws that aim to regulate the benefits that employees are offered as a way to ensure that the employee’s interests are being considered., There are even laws that impose upon employers the obligation to provide additional benefits to employees that go beyond their usual salary. Examples of these types of laws are the federal Employment Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), which regulates employers who offer pension or welfare benefit plans for employees, and the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which requires employers to give unpaid but job-protected leaves to employees who need to attend to the birth or adoption of a child, or for the serious illness of the employee or their family member.

What are Rights of Employees in  California?

The following are some of the rights of employees in  California, as provided under  California employment law and federal law:

  • Right to minimum wage
  • Right to a safe workplace
  • Right to health coverage
  • Right to social security
  • Right to unemployment benefits
  • Right to protection against discrimination
  • Right to family leave

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What are overtime rules in California employment laws?

In California, non-exempt employees, or those covered by the Industrial Welfare Commission Wage Orders, must be paid 1.5x their regular rate for hours worked in excess of 8 hours per day or more than 40 hours per week. The same overtime rate also applies to the first 8 hours worked on the seventh consecutive day of work in a workweek.

In addition, an employee must be paid double the regular rate for work rendered in excess of 12 hours per day, or in excess of eight hours on the seventh consecutive day of work in a workweek.

2. What is the minimum wage in California labor law?

The minimum wage in California depends on how many workers are employed by the employer. As of January 1, 2021, the minimum wage required of employers with 25 employees or less is $13 per hour, while those with 26 employees or more are required to pay a minimum wage of $14 per hour. On January 1, 2022, these rates will increase to $14 and $15, respectively. In 2023, the minimum wage for California will be at $15 per hour, regardless of the number of employees.

Cities and counties within the state of California may also have varying minimum wage rates, which are usually higher than what is provided by state law. In any case, the higher rate must prevail. To date, Emoryville has the highest minimum wage in the state of California at $16.84 per hour.

3. Is there a different minimum wage rate for minor employees in California?

No. The minimum wage is the same for minor and adult employees in California. 

4. Are California-based employees entitled to meal breaks?

Yes. Non-exempt employees are entitled to an uninterrupted period of 30 minutes, during which they must be entirely free from performing any work-related tasks, if they work more than 5 hours in a workday. The break must be taken before the 5th hour of the worker’s shift. The meal break may be waived upon agreement by the employee and employer, as long as the employee does not work more than 6 hours in a day.

Non-compliance of employers in California will entitle the employee to an hour of regular pay for each day a violation occurs. 

5. What is the required rest period under California employment law?

California labor law also requires employers to compensate workers for a 10-minute rest period for every 4 hours worked, and for successive fractions thereof, as provided below:

  • Zero to 3:49 hours: 0 rest periods
  • 3.5 to 6 hours: 1 rest period
  • 6+ to 10 hours: 2 rest periods
  • 10+ to 14 hours: 3 rest periods
  • 14+ to 18 hours: 4 rest periods
  • 18+ to 22 hours: 5 rest periods

Employees must not be required by their employers to stay on the premises during the rest periods. Employers are also not allowed to require employees to combine rest periods and meal breaks. 

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