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An HR Glossary for HR Terms

Glossary of Human Resources Management and Employee Benefit Terms

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California Labor Laws

What Are California Labor Laws?

California labor laws are laws related to employment protections and workers’ rights that are specific to the State of California. Generally speaking, any business with employees in the state must treat those employees in conformity with California labor laws, and any person working in the state is protected by California labor laws. There are exemptions for certain types of employees, most notably executive, administrative, and professional employees; however, exemption does not mean an employee is exempt from all California labor laws, just those concerning minimum wage, rest breaks, meal breaks, and overtime pay. 

Why Are California Labor Laws So Important?

California is the most populous state in the nation, which makes California labor laws applicable to more U.S. employers and employees than any other state’s. However, one of the biggest reasons California labor laws are so often cited is that California also strays from federal law more than any other state; California also has some of the most progressive and employee-centric labor laws in the country. While there are other states with progressive labor laws, California’s size and its history of going against federal labor laws make it a standard bearer for proponents of expanded workers’ rights and increased worker protections.

What Are the Most Important California Labor Laws? 

While there are far too many guidelines in California labor laws to cover here, some are important to keep in mind because they’re the most commonly referenced. As you’ll see, they almost invariably provide some sort of protection against discrimination, unfair working conditions, or inadequate compensation. It’s worth noting that this list is current as of August 2020; if you’re reading this after January 1, 2021, you should check to see if any of these laws have changed. Here, also, are some important changes to California labor laws that are worth noting: 11 Important Changes to California Labor Laws in 2020  

Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA)

The California Fair Employment and Housing Act, or FEHA, is a broadly applicable anti-discrimination act. It prohibits discrimination by employers of five or more employees on the basis of: 

  • Race

  • Religion

  • Color

  • National origin and ancestry

  • Physical or mental disability

  • Medical condition

  • Genetic information

  • Marital status

  • Sex

  • Sexual orientation

  • Gender identity/expression

  • Pregnancy or related condition

  • Age

  • Military/veteran status

FEHA also prohibits harassment as a form of discrimination, and it prohibits retaliation against victims of discrimination, those who assist victims of discrimination, or anyone who reports or opposes illegal discrimination.  

FEHA also requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees for reasons of pregnancy, childbirth, religious practice, and disability, and puts the burden of proof on employers to prove they are unable to do so if there is a dispute.

You can read more about FEHA here: California Fair Employment and Housing Act

Wages, Overtime, and Pay Disclosure

California employers may not prohibit employees from discussing compensation or discriminate against employees who do. In the case of pay disparity, California requires employers to prove there is an appropriate reason for the disparity that is not discriminatory. You can read more about these laws here: California Equal Pay Laws

California requires employers with 26 or more employees to pay hourly employees a minimum of $13.00 per hour, and $12.00 per hour for 25 or fewer employees. California employers must also pay time-and-a-half (1.5x the employee’s normal hourly wage) for any hours over 40 in a workweek or over 8 hours in a single day. That overtime rate increases to double time (2x the employee’s normal hourly wage) for any hours over 12 in a single day. Time-and-a-half must be paid for all 8 hours to any employee working a seventh consecutive day, and double time must be paid after 8 hours of work on the seventh day. You can read more about this here: California Minimum Wage Laws 

Rest Breaks

California requires paid rest and meal breaks for all nonexempt employees (10 minutes of break time after every four hours, plus 30 minutes of meal time for any employee working longer than 5 hours), and breastfeeding breaks for mothers of infants. You can read more about these break laws here: California Rest Break Laws and California Breastfeeding Break Law

Whistleblower Protections

A whistleblower is someone who reports a violation or suspected violation of the law, including unsafe working conditions, to a law enforcement or government agency. 

California prohibits employers from discriminating or retaliating against employees or former employees who are whistleblowers, and it forbids employers from enacting any rules or policies that would prevent or discourage employees from whistleblowing. 

You can read more about this law here: California Whistleblower Protections

Recruiting and Hiring Laws

California has specific laws related to recruiting and hiring, including permissions and restrictions on drug testing, salary history, and credit and background checks. You can read more about what’s allowed and what is prohibited here: California Background Check Laws and California Pre-Employment Drug Testing Laws and the Ban the Box Law.

Vacation, Sick Leave, and Family Leave 

California has a number of laws that grant leave to employees who are sick, employees whose family members are sick or require care, to new parents, parents of schoolchildren, victims of domestic violence, military personnel, and many others. 

Specifically, the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) requires employers with 50 or more employees to provide up to 12 weeks of protected leave in a 12-month period for a serious health condition, to care for a family member with a serious health condition, or for childbirth, adoption, or foster care. 

California also provides partial wage replacement for up to eight weeks of time off under the same conditions as the CFRA, under a Family Temporary Disability Insurance program. 

California labor laws involving time off and leaves of absence are extensive. You can find more complete coverage here: California Work Leave Laws

Other California Labor Laws

The list of relevant California labor laws doesn’t stop here; this is just a short list, and even what it does include is not the last word on the laws mentioned. We recommend seeking professional legal assistance or at the very least consulting the California Department of Labor website for more information.

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