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California mill workers were among the first Americans to secure an eight-hour workday back in 1905. The rest of America later followed California's lead with 40-hour workweeks. California employment laws have consistently featured employee-friendly rights and provisions.
With strict limits on work hours and higher minimum wage laws in some cities, California law protects workers' rights. The federal government sets the minimum standard for employment protection—including minimum wage and anti-discrimination laws—but California passed its own additional laws.
California employees enjoy a wide variety of rights and benefits concerning discrimination, meal periods and rest breaks, time off from work, privacy, etc.
A common employment law issue that crops up is when an employee is fired for an illegal reason. Under federal law, employees may not be terminated on the basis of their race, gender, ethnicity, religion, disability or age. California has also passed laws that create additional protected classes, such as the LGBT community.
Employers who wrongfully terminate members of a protected class may be subject to civil liability for wrongful termination. The ban on discrimination applies not only to firings, but to other aspects of employment, including hiring and promotion decisions.
Federal and state laws also protect employees from unfair labor practices. Employers must comply with wage and hour laws like the Fair Labor Standards Act, which dictates how long an employee can work and how much he or she must be paid.
Employees' rights extend to family life as well. For example, the Family and Medical Leave Act ensures that employees are granted time off to welcome a new baby or deal with illness.
There are laws surrounding workplace conditions. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires employers to provide a safe workplace by adhering to national safety standards. Failing to do so can lead to fines and civil liability. Employees also have certain privacy rights at work, like keeping drug testing and their medical records private.
Beginning in 2017, the minimum wage is $10 for employers with up to 25 employees (smaller employers) and $10.50 for employers with 26 or more employees (larger employers). Come 2018, those numbers will increase to $10.50 for smaller employers and $11 for larger employers. These annual increases will continue until 2023, when all employers must pay a minimum wage of $15.
Eligible California employees must receive overtime if they work more than eight hours in a day or 40 hours in a week. After working 12 hours in a day, California employees must receive double time. If an employee works on a seventh day, that employee is entitled to time and a half for the first eight hours of work and double time for additional hours.
It's important to note that not every type of job is eligible for overtime. Consult the California Department of Industrial Relations or conduct your own legal research to be certain.
Employees in California are entitled to an unpaid meal break of 30 minutes after five working hours. An exception is when the workday will be completed in six hours or less and the employer and employee consent to waive the meal break.
The employee cannot work more than 10 hours a day without a second 30-minute break—except if the workday is no more than 12 hours. The second meal break may be waived if the first meal break was not waived.
Employees are also entitled to a paid 10-minute rest period for each four hours worked, if feasible. California employees whose total daily work time is less than three-and-a-half hours are not included.
California employers are not required to provide any paid vacation or paid time off (PTO) to their employees. However, to ensure they have happy, healthy employees, many employers choose to offer vacation as a benefit of employment.
California employers who offer vacation must follow certain guidelines. California law considers accrued vacation to be a form of wages already earned by the employee. Accrued vacation (and PTO) cannot expire and must be paid out to an employee upon termination or separation. Sick leave is not subject to the same rules as vacation and PTO.
In general, vacation accrues over time as an employee works. For example, if a vacation policy gives an employee 10 days of vacation each year, he or she will accrue five days of vacation after working for six months.
Employers can designate a waiting period at the beginning of employment before vacation starts to accrue, though. The waiting period often correlates with the 90-day introductory period but can be as long as the first year of employment.
Employers can also give vacation to certain groups of employees but not others as long as they don't discriminate based on a protected characteristic such as race or gender. For example, employers may give vacation only to full-time employees or only to managers.
Reasonable Cap on Vacation Accrual
California does not permit “use-it-or-lose-it” vacation policies requiring that accrued vacation be used by a certain date. Since accrued vacation is considered earned wages, use-it-or-lose-it policies are deemed as wrongfully withholding wages owed to employees.
However, employers can place a cap on vacation accrual. So if an employee reaches a certain number of vacation days, they can stop accruing more until they use some. This can prevent employees from racking up unreasonable amounts of vacation time.
If you or a loved one is involved in an employment law dispute, it's in your best interests to consult with an attorney. Employment law is a broad, complicated legal area with federal and state laws at play. An experienced employment law attorney can help protect your legal rights.
Have you been discriminated against by a potential or current employer — as a job applicant or current employee? To best protect your legal rights you should discuss your situation with an employment lawyer. Meet with a local employment attorney sooner rather than later to protect your rights.