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Basic Overtime Primer

As a firm that places a focus on employment law, we often address issues and answer questions from clients regarding minimum wage and overtime pay in the state of California. Due to the fact that there are some differences between the federal and state requirements related to overtime, we felt it could be helpful to clarify some of the most important basic points related to these laws, as well as one of the most common violations of it. 


Overtime pay and the federal Fair Labor Standards Act

According to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), there are federal laws that require an employer to meet certain legal standards regarding minimum wage and overtime pay, (among other employment related requirements such as child labor laws and recordkeeping). The FLSA stipulates that an employer is responsible for doing the following:

●      Paying their employees the minimum wage. At present, the minimum wage for nonexempt workers is a rate of $7.25 an hour. 

●      Paying their employees an overtime pay rate for any time they work over 40 hours within one work week. 

Overtime pay and California law

In addition to the provisions of the FLSA, California’s state laws go a little further, requiring that overtime be paid to nonexempt employees who work:

●      Over 8 hours in one workday (which is defined as a 24 hour period which starts at the same time each day).

●      Over 40 hours in one workweek (which is defined as seven consecutive days that start on the same day each week).

●      A seventh day, consecutively, in one workweek. It is the responsibility of your employer to designate the day on which your workweek begins. This information can help you determine whether you have worked and are owed the pay for overtime.

Violations of overtime regulations

One of the most frequent abuses of overtime law occurs when an employer purposely misclassifies an employee who should be considered of exempt status as a non-exempt employee to avoid tracking and paying them for overtime hours worked. This violation, as well as others that are often in conjunction with this, such as forcing misclassified workers to work off the clock, or deducting for meal breaks even when an employee works through them, are not uncommon but need to be recognized and corrected. Some of the most recent examples of this unlawful employer behavior has been found within the defense industry in California, where Department of Defense contractors were accused of and found to be in violation of protections provided to employees through the FLSA. 

Understanding the difference between what California labor laws consider an exempt or non-exempt employee is very useful in helping you avoid being taken advantage of by an employer.

Exempt employees

Overtime laws are not applicable to employees who are exempt as defined within the California Labor Code.  This means meeting  the following criteria:

●      50% or more of your time at work is spent on professional, administrative or executive job duties.

●      You must regularly use your independent judgment and discretion while at work.

●      Your payment is salaried and equal to at least twice the minimum wage of the state for a 40 hour workweek.

There are exceptions to this specified in state law, including licensed doctors and surgeons, private school teachers and employees of the state or local government (including University of California employees), as well as employees who earn more than half of their pay from commissions. 

Non-exempt employees

Non-exempt employees, on the other hand, are protected by the FLSA, which entitles them to overtime pay. This is a rate of their regular hourly wage, plus half of that wage for each hour over a 40 hour workweek. Employers are allowed to require non-exempt employees to work mandatory overtime, but California allows employees who have worked 72 or more hours in the previous week to refuse working overtime hours without penalty. 

If you have personal questions or concerns regarding an issue of overtime law in California that have not been addressed to your satisfaction here, we invite you to contact our office today. We offer free case evaluations and will be happy to help you find the answers you need.

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