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Exempt vs. Not Exempt Overtime Pay in California


California employees are guaranteed certain protections, including the right to workers’ compensation benefits, protection from harassment and discrimination, overtime pay, minimum wage, and certain rest breaks throughout the day. Not all employees are entitled to all protections, however. In California, certain employees are exempt from overtime pay requirements. Read on to learn about the overtime rules in California and who is exempt from overtime protection.

California Overtime Rules

Under California law, all covered employees are guaranteed overtime pay. Overtime pay kicks in when a given worker has worked enough hours in a given day or a given workweek. Both California and federal law guarantee workers overtime pay, but California law is generally more protective of workers.

Pursuant to California law, workers must be paid one-and-a-half (1.5x) their typical hourly rate for the following:

  • Hours worked over eight in a single workday
  • Hours worked in excess of 40 in a single workweek
  • The first eight hours worked on the seventh consecutive day of work in the workweek

Additionally, California law requires employers to pay workers double (2x) their typical hourly rate for the following:

  • Hours worked in excess of 12 in a single workday
  • Hours worked more than eight on the seventh consecutive day of work in a workweek

That means that an employee who works 16 hours in a single day is entitled to eight hours of their normal hourly pay, plus 4 hours paid at 1.5x their normal rate, plus 4 hours paid at double the normal hourly wage.

Defining the “workweek” can be a bit tricky, and there are ways for employers to have workers work seven or eight days in a row without triggering overtime. However, the general rules for overtime in California are as stated.

Who is Exempt from Overtime Pay?

Overtime pay only applies to nonexempt workers. Certain types of employees and other workers are exempt from the California and federal overtime rules. In order to be exempt, an employee must meet the legal definition of an “exempt” employee. An employer cannot treat an employee as exempt just because the employee signs a contract agreeing to be exempt, or by paying an employee a salary instead of an hourly wage.

There are three general categories of exempt employees: (1) executive, administrative or professional (white-collar) employees; (2) certain exempt professions; and (3) certain employees who work on commission.

First, white-collar employees may be exempt from overtime laws and meal break/rest break requirements. Employees may be exempt if they satisfy a three-part test:

  • They earn a salary equivalent to at least twice the state minimum wage for full-time (40 hours/week) work;
  • They perform primarily (at least 50%) “white collar” duties at work–meaning executive, administrative, or professional tasks; and
  • Their job must involve the use of independent judgment and discretion.

Additionally, California law exempts employees in certain professions from overtime protection. Certain requirements must be satisfied for workers in each profession to be exempt. These requirements concern the type of job duties they perform, their level of education, and their level of pay. Exempt professions include:

  • Physicians and surgeons
  • Computer technology professionals
  • Private school teachers
  • Truck drivers
  • Outside salespersons
  • California government employees, including employees of the University of California system

Finally, employees who work on commission may be exempt from overtime rules. The commissioned-worker exemption applies to workers who satisfy two conditions: (a) the worker earns more than one-and-a-half times the minimum wage; and (2) more than half of the worker’s compensation must come from commissions.

If you are an employee with discrimination or employee rights concerns in Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, Los Angeles, or San Diego counties, or a California employer dealing with wrongful termination, harassment, employee contract disputes, or other employment law issues, contact an educated and experienced California employment law attorney at Coast Employment Law at 714-551-9930 for a free consultation.

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