Understanding Employment Law In California

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Although the federal government has laws that stipulate minimum wage and other regulations that protect workers, every state has the right to add its own laws to the regulations from the federal government. Some states are doing better than others in this regard.

States like California can be counted as one of America’s most worker (employee) friendly states. Their employment laws seem to favour employees a lot. Check out this site for more information: https://www.dir.ca.gov/dlse/

A summary of the state labor law shows that an employer cannot discriminate against any employee in some protected classes. They must provide accommodation for their pregnant staff, pay everyone equally, be open to negotiation for pay raises, and give employees access to their files while protecting whistle-blowers.

But the sad thing is that many workers in California do not know how much the state’s labor law protects them. Therefore, they become and remain victims of illegalities meted on by their employers.

In this article, we will give you an overview of some of the employment laws in California to bring you up to speed if you live in California.

The Importance of Employment Laws

For many years until about the early 1900s, the average employee in America worked under dangerous and unfavourable conditions.  Children were forced to work, adults were paid menial wages, and discrimination based on several things, such as race and gender, was rife. The condition though deplorable, was one from which the workers saw no way out.

Although there were workers’ unions, they did not have adequate backing from the government both at the federal and state levels. This made it difficult for them to negotiate better terms and working conditions.

Thankfully, reprieve came from employment and labor laws that helped bring about more favourable conditions for workers. Additionally, it restored a sense of dignity in labor and job security to employees.

Most employers, however, still had more bargaining power over employees. This imbalance of power gave these employers monopsony, which made it possible for them to determine what their employees would be paid. They can even go further to make it hard to get new jobs.

Over the years, employment laws have improved to the extent that they have tackled this power imbalance, thereby improving the working relationship between employer and employee. Employers no longer have the power of monopsony since the law gives the employee social and economic rights, including a minimum wage, the right to negotiate working hours, benefits, and much more.

The Purpose of Employment Laws in California

California set up its employment laws to help reduce the adverse effects of the power imbalance between employers and employees and improve their working conditions.

These laws impose several requirements that are legally binding on all employers. These requirements are binding notwithstanding the company’s size as long as they have a minimum of 5 workers. So this means that every employer in California must abide by these laws or face criminal sanctions from the government and/or civil suits.

Employment law

A Birdseye’s View of Some Employment Laws In California

We know that not everyone will take the time to read and study all about the labor laws in this state. That is why we will give you a concise version of some of the laws every employee needs to know.

We will start out with what is known as the protected classes; below is a list, but you can click here for more details on these classes.

protected classes

The Protected Classes

There are categories of people that are known as the protected classes. Federal and state laws protect these groups of people from discrimination.  In California, these groups include the following:-

  1. Color
  2. Race
  3. Religion or creed
  4. Nationality of origin or ancestry
  5. Age, especially people over 40
  6. Physical or mental disability
  7. Sex (this includes issues of pregnancy, giving birth, breastfeeding, and associated medical conditions)
  8. Sexual orientation
  9. Gender identity and expression, or transgender status
  10. Veteran or military status
  11. Marital status
  12. Genetic information (this includes family history and medical conditions)
  13. Medical condition (
  14. Political affiliation, association, or activity (under the ambit of the law)

No one in the above classes should be discriminated against in housing, employment, education, or any other government benefits or social amenities because they belong to that group.

California Laws that Cover Working Hours And Wages

These are the laws that govern what non–exempt employees should earn as minimum wage. Exempt employees earn at least $684 weekly or $35,568 per year and work in administrative or executive roles. Employees who earn high salaries are also in this category.

Non-exempt employees, on the other hand, earn below the stated amounts and must be paid a minimum wage and overtime.

The hour and wage laws protect workers’ overtime wages and the number of breaks a worker can take. These laws, however, do not apply to independent contractors or exempt staff.  You can check out this page for more information on exempt and non-exempt employees: https://www.adp.com/

These laws comprise the following provisions:-

  1. Minimum Wage – This depends on several issues, but it ranges between $14 and $15 per hour.
  2. Rest Breaks – Non-exempt workers must have at least 10 minutes of paid rest break every 4 hours. This must be granted within the worker’s working hours or as the work process permits. If the rest break is not given, the employee should be paid an hour for every work day.
  3. Meal Breaks– Workers are entitled to a minimum meal break of half an hour for every 5-hour work period every day. Those who work 10 hours or more are entitled to another half an hour after the second 5 hours. Any day this meal break is not granted, the employee should receive pay for one hour.
  4. Breastfeeding Breaks – A reasonable break time should be granted to lactating mothers that have to breastfeed their babies. If possible, these breaks should be made to coincide with the already existing break times. Employers are not obligated to pay if the breastfeeding breaks do not coincide with the existing break times. Additionally, an employer is free to disallow breastfeeding breaks that interfere with the operations of the employee.  The employee handbook should have all these spelled out.
  5. Overtime – Employers must pay their workers for every hour they work. This includes overtime after the normal 8 hours per day and 40 hours per week. Additionally, workers on the 7th day of a workweek must be paid overtime too. Over time pay must be 1 ½ times more than the hourly wage. Any worker who does more than 12 hours of overtime in a week should receive double hourly pay.

recruiting and hiring

Laws Concerning Recruiting and Hiring

These laws cover the process of recruiting employees, and they include the following: –

  1. Credit checks – CCRAA (Consumer Credit Reporting Agencies Act) gives the employer the right to check out an applicant who handles the company’s finances.
  2. Drug Testing
  3. Criminal Checks

All the above must be done with the consent of the prospective employee, and in the case where the employee refuses, the decision to hire rests solely with the employer.


As we mentioned earlier in this article, the laws governing employment in California is quite vast and cannot be covered in one article. However, you can engage the services of employment law experts  to handle your employment issues. Working with professionals should always be your first course of action.

These professionals also serve employers, as some business owners may not know when they are running afoul of the law. Do not ever assume that you know all there is to know about the legalities of the employer-employee relationship.  It is always safer to have professionals handle legal issues for you.


One thought on “Understanding Employment Law In California

  1. Jeffrey Conrad says:

    Breastfeeding women who must take a break to feed their babies should be given a fair amount of time. These breaks have to, if at all feasible, fall within the pre-established break periods slice master.

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