California Workers' Rights
Know Your Rights as a California Worker
Your job plays a critical role in your life, and if your employer isn’t treating you fairly, it can lead to serious and adverse consequences. Fortunately, you have legal rights that are well worth protecting.
As an employee, you not only take pride in your work but also depend upon your job to provide for yourself and for your family. In today’s uncertain economy, it is not unusual to have concerns about advancing one’s career, which can lead to doubts about one’s rights as an employee. The truth is, however, that there are robust California labor laws in place that protect the rights of employees like you, and better understanding these workers’ rights can help to ensure that they are upheld. If you have questions or concerns about how you are treated on the job, your rights as an employee, or both, don’t wait to reach out to an experienced California employee rights attorney.
All Employees Have Important Rights on the Job
The Department of Industrial Relations Labor Enforcement Task Force shares that all employees have important workers’ rights in California, including the following:
- Required rest and meal breaks
- A safe and healthy job
- Minimum wage and overtime pay requirements
- Benefits for work-related injuries and unemployment
- The right to take action without fear of reprisal
Each of these has an important role in the infrastructure of state employment rights, and each deserves more careful attention.
Are You an Employee or an Independent Contractor?
The ABC Test
Unless each of the following requirements is satisfied – which is a high bar – you are an employee (and not an independent contractor):
- You are free from the control and direction of the employer in question in terms of your work performance (both under your work contract and in fact).
- The work you perform is outside the scope of the employer in question’s business.
- You routinely engage in your independently established trade, occupation, or business in the same manner that you do for the current employer in question.
The vast majority of workers are classified as employees – rather than as independent contractors – in the eyes of the law, which helps to ensure that you are covered.
The Assumption That You Are an Employee
Labor codes in California assure that workers begin with the assumption that they are employees, and the ABC test must be used to prove otherwise (not the other way around). If you believe that you have been misclassified as an independent contractor, you have the legal right to file one or more of the following claims in response:
Rest and Meal Breaks
Not only is your employer required by labor laws in California to pay you at least a specific minimum wage for doing your job, but also to provide you with mandatory rest and meal breaks. Failure to do so is considered – in the eyes of the law – wage theft. Without the opportunity to take a break and have a meal, your ability to do your job effectively and safely is reduced, and your employer might benefit from your labor without paying you accordingly. When it comes to rest and meal breaks on the job, the following California labor laws apply:
- You are entitled to a paid rest break of at least 10 minutes for every 4 hours you are on the job.
- After working no more than 5 hours, you are entitled to a meal break that lasts at least 30 minutes.
Paying attention to your rights as they relate to these minimum breaks can help to ensure that nothing infringes upon them.
Safe and Healthy Jobs
Some jobs are more dangerous than others, but it does not alter the fact that most injuries acquired on the job are preventable and that employers are responsible for maintaining relatively safe workplaces.
Your Employer’s Responsibility
In an effort to provide you with a safe and healthy job, your employer is required by law to engage in all the following:
- Help to ensure that the workplace in which you work is safe by proactively identifying any health and safety concerns and taking action necessary to correct them
- Have a health and safety plan in writing, which is called an Injury and Illness Prevention Program
- Make sure that you understand the workplace hazards you face and provide you with the training you need – and that you understand – to do your job safely
- Purchase adequate Workers’ Compensation Insurance, which covers medical care and a specific percentage of lost wages for injuries and illnesses that are work-related
- Keep careful track of all injuries and illnesses that are work-related and that require more intensive treatment or care than basic first-aid techniques (some employers are required to keep a log of all such illnesses and injuries and must post summaries from February through April)
- Post the required Cal/OSHA posters in a place where every employee can easily see it
- Alert Cal/OSHA immediately whenever an employee is seriously injured or killed on the job
Cal/OSHA carefully defines what employers like yours are required to do to help protect employees like you from specific risk factors on the job.
Things You Can Do to Help Protect Yourself
If you need to speak up about safety at work, the law is on your side and offers concrete protections. It is within your workers’ rights in California to engage in any of the following in relation to maintaining safety on the job:
- Ask for more information or clarification about any part of your job that you consider risky or dangerous
- Talk about your concerns as they relate to health and safety with your coworkers, supervisor, or both
- Report safety issues and any injuries to your supervisor
- Make suggestions related to making the workplace safer
- Refuse to take on any work that puts you at risk of suffering a serious injury or that jeopardizes your life
- Report the safety concerns that you identify to Cal/OSHA
When it comes to unnecessary risk factors or dangers on the job, it is a matter of if you see something, say something. You are protected by California labor laws from any retaliation for voicing your concerns. In fact, according to the Department of Industrial Relations Labor Enforcement Task Force, it is illegal for your employer to fire you or discriminate against you at work for making a good faith complaint about an unhealthy or unsafe condition.
Benefits If Injured or Unemployed
Minimum Wage and Overtime
Minimum Wage Requirements
The minimum wage requirements in California are generally higher than in the rest of the country (second only to Washington, D.C.) and include the following:
- As of January 1, 2022, the minimum wage for employers who have 25 or fewer employees is $14.00 per hour.
- As of January 1, 2022, the minimum wage for employers who have at least 26 employees is $15.00 per hour.
- On January 1, 2023, the minimum wage for employers who have 25 or fewer employees will rise from $14.00 per hour to $15.00 per hour.
If you are paid per piece or per unit of work you complete, which is often termed “contract work” – or you are paid per day or per week – the wages you receive must reach the same level as they would if you were paid the minimum wage by the hour.
It is important to note that tips are a separate matter and are not included as a portion of your minimum pay.
There are a few exceptions to California’s minimum wage laws (employees whom employers are not required to pay the minimum wage), including:
- Outside salespeople who work on commission
- Camp counselors
- Close family members
Your job amounts to your livelihood, and receiving the pay to which you are entitled is a critical matter that should not be overlooked.
Overtime Wage Requirements
There are also overtime wage requirements mandated by California labor laws.
Most workers are entitled to overtime of at least 1.5 times their regular hourly rate for any hours over 8 in one day or for the number of hours over 40 in 1 week. Further, on the seventh day of work in any given workweek, employees are entitled to overtime pay for the first 8 hours.
For those who work as personal attendants, overtime starts after 9 hours of work in one day or after 45 hours of work in one week.
Taking Action Without Being Punished
Because you do depend upon your job for your livelihood, taking action against an employer that does not abide by California labor laws can feel very risky, but it is important to know that you are protected by the law. In fact, it is illegal for your employer to engage in any of the following forms of retaliation:
- Sending you home from work
- Firing you outright
- Assigning you to less-desirable shifts or job duties
- Threatening you with deportation
- Preventing you or attempting to prevent you from obtaining another job
Further, it is well within your workers’ rights in California to engage in any of the following:
- Let your concerns about wages that are owed to you be heard
- Report any injuries you’ve sustained
- Report any concerns related to health or safety on the job
- File a claim or complaint with the appropriate state agency
- Join with other employees to make your voice heard in the pursuit of change