What Are the Minimum Wage Laws in California?

California employers must pay eligible employees an hourly wage that is at or above the minimum wage. While this seems straightforward, employers frequently try to avoid paying workers the minimum wage in several ways. At the McCormack Law Firm, San Francisco employment lawyer Bryan McCormack aggressively pursues claims of wage and hour violations under the Fair Labor Standards Act and California law. With over 20 years of experience representing employees harmed by wage theft, attorney McCormack has not only the skills – but also the track record of success – necessary to bring even the most complex California employment law cases against any size employer.

Minimum Wage Statistics

As of 2021, the California minimum wage is $13.00 per hour if an employer has fewer than 25 employees. If an employer has 26 or more employees, then the minimum wage is $14.00 per hour. This is more than 50 percent higher than the federal minimum wage, which is currently $7.25.

The minimum wage in California is scheduled to increase, as follows:

  • January 1, 2022 – $14 per hour for employers with fewer than 25 employees and $15 per hour for employers with 26 or more employees.
  • January 1, 2023 – $15 per hour regardless of the number of employees.

Certain cities in California require a higher minimum wage:

  • San Francisco – $16.07 per hour
  • Oakland – $14.36 per hour
  • Berkeley – $16.07 per hour 
  • San Jose – $15.45 per hour
  • Fremont – $15.00 per hour
  • Palo Alto – $15.65 per hour
  • San Diego – $14.00 per hour
  • Los Angeles – $15.00 per hour

Many other cities have their own minimum wage: Minimum Wages in California Cities

How Employers Try to Get Around California Minimum Wage Laws

Most employers care about the wellbeing of their employers, understanding that happy employees are generally better employees. However, some employers avoid paying employees the minimum wage. If your employer attempts to reduce your wages in the following ways, you may have a legal case to recover your unpaid wages:

Using tips as a credit toward an employee’s minimum wage

In some states, employers can use the average amount of an employee’s tips to offset the minimum wage requirement. For example, if an employee averages $5 per hour in tips, an employer may reduce the employee’s hourly minimum wage by $5. However, California law prevents this practice. Thus, food service workers and other tipped employees must still be paid the California minimum wage in addition to their tips. 

Paying minors a lower minimum wage

Unlike many other states, California’s minimum wage laws apply to workers of all ages. Even minor employees under the age of 18 are entitled to the state’s minimum wage. However, an exception allows employers to pay for “learners” who have no previous experience in a job 85 percent of the regular pay for their first 160 hours. 

Getting an employee to agree to less money

Some employers try to get around the minimum wage requirements by getting an employee to agree to a lower pay rate. Not only is this type of agreement not valid, but it is also an illegal employment practice. Employees cannot be asked to work for less than the minimum wage. Even if you agreed to accept less than minimum wage, the agreement will not hold up in court, and you must be paid back wages.

Ignoring local minimum wage laws

California is unique because many of the state’s cities have passed legislation implementing a higher minimum wage. For example, the minimum wage in San Francisco is $15.59 per hour. The minimum wages in Berkeley, Palo Alto, Fremont and San Jose, and dozens of other cities are all at or above $15 per hour. Employers in these cities will occasionally try to pay workers a lower minimum wage, such as the California state minimum wage of $12 or $13 per hour.  

Limiting paid hours

While many California minimum wage disputes involve an employee’s rate of pay, some employers may pay the employee the correct wage but illegally limit the employee’s paid hours. This involves an employer who requires an employee to work for a period of time while off-the-clock. For example, an employer may ask an employee to take calls or answer emails while at home or clock out for rest breaks. Employers may deduct a half-hour for lunch even if the employees work through their lunch breaks. These practices are illegal, and the employees are owed back wages plus interest and penalties.

While it may seem easy to determine when an employer is violating California minimum wage laws, that is not always the case. And while some employers run afoul of minimum wage laws, ignorance of the law is not a valid defense. Employees who believe that they have not received the pay they are entitled to should reach out to a dedicated Bay Area employment lawyer for assistance.

Contact a San Francisco Wage and Hour Attorney Today

If you believe that your employer is paying you less than the minimum wage, depriving you of your hard-earned wages, contact the McCormack Law Firm for immediate assistance. As experienced San Francisco employment law attorneys, we understand the laws employers must follow as well as the tricks they use to cover up their illegal employment practices. In addition to California minimum wage violations, we handle all types of California employment law claims, including overtime pay disputes, misclassifications of independent contractors and exempt employee violations. We also handle California wrongful termination, employment discrimination cases, and FMLA violations. To learn more and schedule a free consultation to speak with an attorney about your situation, call (415) 925-5161.

Schedule your free consultation today: 415.925.5161

Client testimonials

I can honestly say that my experience with Bryan was all the way positive from day one… We had very high expectations about our case and in the end we got what we hoped for. – Roger J.

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