There are a number of differences between state and federal wage and hour laws. The Fair Labor Standards Act or FLSA establishes federal minimum wage and overtime pay rates for employees who work in the private sector as well as for employees of federal, local and state governments.
How They Are Different
The U.S. Department of Labor enforces the FLSA. Most public employees are covered under the FLSA even though there are exclusions for certain categories of employees. Private employees are also covered under the FLSA if the employer is a hospital, educational institution or governmental agency that has revenue of at least $500,000 each year.
In California, wage and hour laws are set forth in the California Labor Code and the California Industrial Welfare Commission (IWC) Wage Orders, which set the overtime and minimum wage rates. In California, the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement or DLSE enforces these laws.
California's Overtime Laws Are Stronger
So, what happens when state and federal laws conflict? When that occurs, private employers are required to follow the law that works to the employee's advantage. Since California's wage and hour laws stronger than federal laws, it will most likely prevail. Under FLSA, overtime must be paid at 1.5 times the employee's hourly rate for working more than 40 hours during a workweek.
In California, an employer must pay non-exempt employees at 1.5 times the employee's hourly rate for each hour worked over eight hours in a day for each hour worked over 40 in a workweek as well for the first eight hours worked on the seventh consecutive day of the week. Also, California's employers must pay double the regular rate of pay for 12 or more hours worked in a day and for all hours worked over eight on the seventh consecutive day of work.
FLSA overtime rules also do not apply to agricultural workers who prepare crops for transportation or processing within the same state. However, in California, agricultural employees who prepare the soil or harvest crops are paid overtime after 10 hours of work in a day and for the first eight hours on the seventh consecutive day or work in a workweek. Also double time is paid for all hours of work in excess of eight on the seventh day of work in a workweek.
How Employers Avoid Paying Overtime
There are many ways in which employers dodge paying overtime to workers. Here are some of the common strategies employers use to avoid paying overtime:
Misclassifying workers: A number of employers try to get around paying employees overtime or benefits by classifying them incorrectly as "independent contractors." If your employer controls the time, place or manner of your work or if your employer prohibits you from working for other companies and sets work rules and your hours of work, then you are an employee under the law, not a contractor. If you signed an independent contractor agreement, but are being treated like an employee, you are not only losing your overtime, but also paying your company's share of employment taxes.
Off-the-clock work: There are also employers who force employees to clock out for lunch or meal breaks even if they work through their lunchtime. Some others might tell their employees to clock out, but require them to continue working. These actions are all illegal strategies that employers use to prevent paying overtime.
Blurring the line: Some employers try to cut corners by letting go of non-exempt or hourly workers and giving those duties to exempt employees who are not required to be paid overtime. So, these exempt employees would be doing twice the work for the same pay. For example, if you are a manager, but are also required to answer calls or man the front desk, you are probably entitled to receive overtime pay for performing non-exempt duties.
On-call expectations: If you have to be on call and are unable to use your free time in a manner of your choosing, then, you should be paid overtime for the period you are on call. If the company says you must be within a certain distance from the office or that you must return calls within a short time, then you should be getting paid overtime for remaining on call and putting the rest of your life on hold.
Working from home: If your job requires you to respond to emails or texts, or work from home after you leave work, you are entitled to be paid overtime for those hours. This has become a complex issue as more Californians are working from home now because of the coronavirus pandemic. It is important to keep track of your work time closely so you are paid what you are owed.
Volunteer work: Many companies are increasingly getting involved in charitable work, which is a wonderful thing. They may ask their employees to volunteer for this type of work during weekends or holidays. If this work is completely voluntary, you don't have to be paid overtime. However, if your employer requires you to participate and if you could face consequences for not volunteering, you should be compensated.
Contacting an Experienced Lawyer
California employees may file a wage and hour lawsuit for failing to pay overtime wages. The FLSA provides a right of action for violations of federal labor laws. This includes the failure to pay hourly employees the federal minimum wage or failure to pay overtime. The FLSA provides for liquidated damages for unpaid overtime compensation, which means that if you re successful with the lawsuit, you could get damages that amount to double the unpaid overtime. You may also be able to recover the cost of attorneys' fees and other lawsuit-related expenses.
If your employer has violated the FLSA and/or California overtime laws, the experienced California employment lawyers at Kingsley & Kingsley can help you better understand your legal rights and options. We can provide you with the knowledge and resources you need to make an informed decision regarding your case. We do not charge any fees unless we have recovered compensation for you. Call us at 888-500-8469 for a free, comprehensive and confidential consultation.