Navigating the Minefield of California's Labor Laws - Employers Proceed with Caution

In California the employer-employee relationship is heavily regulated by state and federal laws and regulations. Employers who are unaware of how heavily regulated generally find out after receiving a complaint from the Labor Commissioner or a lawsuit. This article briefly addresses two common issues.

Overtime. Many employers will not pay an employee who “violates” company policy by working unauthorized overtime. This is not a legally recognizable reason to refuse to pay overtime. Failing to pay overtime exposes the employer to pay not only the unpaid wages, but interest and penalties, the latter of which for an ex-employee can climb to thirty days of additional pay regardless of the amount of unpaid overtime. An employer may discipline an employee who works unauthorized overtime, but, except in limited circumstances, must pay it.

Rest and meal periods for non-exempt employees. Employers must “permit and authorize” an employee to take a ten minute duty free paid rest period for every 3 ½ hours worked. In a typical eight hour day, a non-exempt employee is entitled to a break during the first four hour period and another during the second four hour period. Since it is paid, the employee does not clock out and in for a rest period. A thirty minute duty fee unpaid meal period is required for every six hours worked and must be provided for within the first five hours of work. Since it is unpaid, employees must clock in/out when taking a meal period unless the entire business is shut down during lunch. Failure to provide rest and/or meal periods exposes the employer to pay the employee one hour of pay as a penalty.

Steps can be taken to insure compliance with the law in these particular areas before facing claims for unpaid overtime or failing to provide rest and/or meal periods which can be addressed by consulting experienced legal counsel.