Being an employer is challenging. There are a lot of rules and regulations to follow and strict consequences if you fail to do so. It can feel extremely confusing to traverse the strict laws surrounding employment.

One area that is especially strict and leaves no room for error is overtime pay. Overtime is a facet of wage law, and violations in this arena can mean wage theft claims and potential legal action. Of course, as an employer, you would like to avoid such a situation and ensure that you are paying your employees correctly. However, employees can be hard to manage, and they sometimes violate the standards that you have set forth for your business.

Whether you are approaching this topic from the perspective of a business owner or employer, or a hard-working employee, it is important to understand California laws and ways in which they can be violated.

California Overtime Wage Laws

Before we can discuss wage violations and overtime, we must first discuss the laws surrounding overtime pay in the state of California. The standards are straightforward. All non-exempt employees must be paid 1.5 times their normal wage if any one of the following should occur:

  • The employee works more than 40 hours in a single week
  • The employee works more than 8 hours in a single day
  • The employee works for 7 consecutive days

As an employer, you are responsible for ensuring that your employees receive 1.5 times their normal pay for these situations.

However, there are some situations in which you are obligated to pay your employees two times their normal pay. These situations include:

  • The employee works for 12 hours in a single day
  • The employee works more than 8 hours on their 7th consecutive workday

These laws help to uphold balance for workers and allow them proper time to rest and see their families. If they are not able to take their rest time, significant extra compensation is required, as seen above.

Meals And Breaks
Some overtime hours occur because of meal and break violations. Though these infractions are often small and only involve an extra half hour of work or so, they still call for overtime pay.

Non-exempt employees are entitled to:

  • One 30-minute break for every 5 hours of work
  • One 10-minute break for every 4 hours of work

Sometimes, these breaks are unnecessary, and the employee would like to opt-out of them. It is at your discretion as an employer whether or not you would like to allow them to skip their break. If the extra 30 minutes will put them into overtime and you do not need their work at the moment, it may be best to ask them to take their break anyway.

No matter what you do, however, you cannot ask them to work while off the clock. Either they remain on the clock and work, or they clock out and take a break. There is no other option.

Unauthorized Overtime
In some situations, an employee may work overtime without asking first or being authorized to do so. It is important to note that this does not have any bearing on the application of overtime laws in California. An employer must pay overtime wages for overtime work, whether the overtime was required or approved.

Though this can be irritating as an employer, it is important to understand that you are in charge of monitoring your employee’s workload and ensuring that they do not engage in overtime hours if you do not want them to. This may mean that they leave work in the middle of a project, extend a deadline, or are unable to help during a busy rush. Employers are responsible for either empowering their employees to leave on time and not engage in extra work or paying them overtime.

Mandatory Overtime
Mandatory overtime is perfectly legal, as long as the employer pays the overtime wages outlined above. However, an employer may not discipline an employee for not working for seven consecutive days. They may volunteer to do so, but the employer cannot make it mandatory.

For example, if an employer gives mandatory overtime work to a typical 9-5 office on Saturday from 10:00-2:00, the employees must do so. In exchange, the employer must pay them 1.5 times their wage for the extra 4 Saturday hours. However, the employer cannot force the employees to come in from 10:00-2:00 on both Saturday and Sunday. The employees have the right to one day off per week.

Disciplinary Action
Employers are allowed to take disciplinary action against employees in some situations. In the case of mandatory overtime, an employer may reprimand, demote, or even fire an employee for not appearing for legal mandatory overtime hours. Similarly, an employer may reprimand, demote, or fire an employee for working unauthorized overtime hours.

It is important to keep in mind that the employee may have a legal case against the employer if the employer assigns work that requires overtime but refuses to give the employee the option of overtime.

For example, if an employer assigns a project that reasonably takes 50 hours and asks that the employee finish it in a week without allowing for overtime, the employee may be able to take the case to court if disciplinary action is taken against them for working overtime. In this situation, the employer is essentially asking that the employee either:

  • Work off the clock
  • Fail to get the project done
  • Engage in unauthorized overtime

If you are an employer, be sure to keep this in mind. Though laws allow you to ask your employees not to work overtime, you must deal with any consequences that arise from this.

Contact California Employment Counsel

If you are an employee who believes that your employer is breaking the legal overtime wage laws, you need an attorney. Here at the California Employment Counsel, we specialize in employment law and wage theft. We understand how difficult the situation can feel, so we do everything in our power to provide you with smooth, swift results.

For more information or to schedule a consultation, contact us today.