Work Schedules & California Labor Law

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Welder in a workshop (Image: roman023/iStock/Getty Images)

Compared to other states, California has complex labor laws regarding work schedules. Nonexempt employees are required to take both paid and unpaid breaks during the work day. If an employee works more than a certain amount of hours in a day or in a week, he's entitled to varying levels of overtime pay. Overtime pay for nonexempt employees only can be avoided through an alternative workweek schedule.

Exempt Versus Nonexempt

California labor laws regarding overtime pay and mandatory breaks only apply to nonexempt employees. An employee may be classified as exempt if her job duties require creative thought and independent judgement. Executives, administrative workers, professionals, doctors, computer engineers and sales personnel are some of the employees that can be classified as exempt. To be exempt, the employee must earn a salary that's equivalent to at least twice the state minimum wage for full-time employment.

Overtime Pay

A nonexempt employee is entitled to overtime pay in certain situations. California requires that the employer pay 1 1/2 times the employee's regular rate after he works more than eight hours in one day or 40 hours in one week. If the employee works more than twelve hours in one day, he's entitled to twice his regular pay. Employees are also entitled to 1 1/2 times regular pay if they work a seventh consecutive work day. After eight hours on the seventh consecutive day, the employee receives double pay.

Breaks and Meal Periods

California requires that nonexempt employees take both paid breaks and an unpaid meal period break. Employees must take a ten minute unpaid break for every four hours that they work. Employees who work more than six hours in a day must take an unpaid 30 minute meal break. The employee must take the break before the fifth hour he works. For example, if an employee is scheduled to work from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., he must begin his break by 1 p.m. at the latest. If the employee works more than ten hours, he must take at least two 30 minute meal breaks.

Alternative Workweek Schedules

If an employer implements an alternate workweek schedule, he may avoid paying nonexempt employees overtime in some situations. California allows employers to implement an alternative workweek as long as two-thirds of the affected employees agree to it. Alternative workweek schedules allow nonexempt employees to work up to 10 hours a day as long as they don't exceed 40 hours a week. For example, an employer could propose a schedule in which employees work 10 hours on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and have Friday off.

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