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When employees are taken advantage of in the workplace —- by not being paid for overtime hours, for example —- it often happens because the employees are simply not aware of their rights. They may not even realize that their employer is doing anything that goes against state or federal laws. If you work in California, the best way to protect yourself is to know these laws inside and out.
You can start by growing more familiar with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). A federal act, it can apply in any state, though state laws sometimes trump it. It has put the minimum wage at $7.25, currently, and it provides the right to overtime pay to some employees, when their jobs qualify. The way that state laws can trump this federal act is simply if they are more beneficial to the employees. A higher minimum wage in the state laws, for example, would mean that following the FLSA and paying $7.25 per hour is illegal.
With that in mind, you should know that the minimum wage in California is $9 an hour at this time. However, that is just part of a trend -— last year it was only $8 per hour for half of the year. When we get to the first of January of next year -— 2016 -— the state minimum wage will jump up by another dollar, to $10. Since all of these are higher than $7.25, the FLSA has no power in that regard, and the state laws take precedence.
One big thing to note is that this minimum wage applies for all jobs, even those where you earn tips. Other states do not have this law, and some states even allow payments as low as $2.13 an hour, with tips being added in to get up to minimum wage. While this is legal under the FLSA, the state laws in California do not allow it. You have to get the minimum, as it is set currently, and tips are merely extra, not part of your wages.
The overtime laws are a bit different in California, as well. The old standard of working more than 40 hours in a week applies, and you should get time and a half if you do. However, you also get time and a half if you break eight hours in a day. If you go past 12 hours in a single day, your rate goes up again, to double your standard rate. This is known as double time. If you have to work seven days in a single week, your time and a half begins right away and goes for eight hours, and then it jumps up to double time for anything over eight hours on that day alone.
You cannot be forced to work with no end in sight, as California's laws also give you the right to a break. The first break is for lunch, and you should get an unpaid, half-hour long break once you go past five hours of work. The exception is if you are only working for six hours or less, when you have the option to skip the break if you and your employer agree.
Additionally, you need a second break of the same 30 minutes if you have to work for 10 hours or more. Again, if you are working for 12 hours, you have the right not to take this break if you do not want to do so. On top of that, you should get paid breaks that are at least 10 minutes long for every segment of work that reaches four hours in length. This should happen close to the halfway point in that work period. If it is impossible for you to leave and take an unpaid lunch break, due to the type of job that you have, you can also take a paid lunch break, though you have to work while you eat.
This article is intended to be helpful and informative. But even common legal matters can become complex and stressful. A qualified wage and hour lawyer can address your particular legal needs, explain the law, and represent you in court. Take the first step now and contact a local wage and hour attorney to discuss your specific legal situation.
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