Warehouse workers often face significant wage and hour issues in the workplace. 5 of the most common are:
- minimum wage protections,
- overtime pay,
- payments for rest and meal breaks,
- being required to work off the clock, and
- receiving unpaid wages after termination.
These concerns are growing more and more important as large companies, like Amazon and Wal-Mart, open warehouses and employ more workers across the country, from California to New York.
1. Are warehouse workers entitled to a minimum wage?
Yes. All workers, including part-time and full-time workers in warehouse jobs, are entitled to a minimum wage.
The applicable hourly wage depends on where in the country the worker is located.
As of January, 2022, the federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. This standard is set by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). While the rate has not changed since 2009, there is a movement for a wage increase to $15 per hour.
However, 29 states, the District of Columbia, and 53 cities and counties have minimum wage laws that are higher than the federal rate. California is one of those states. Its minimum wage is $14 per hour for employers with 25 or fewer employees, and $15 per hour for employers with more workers. It is set to increase to $15.50 per hour for all employers by 2023.
There are also numerous counties and cities in California that have minimum wages that are even higher. For example, in January 2021:
- Los Angeles’ minimum wage is $15.00 per hour,
- Berkeley’s minimum wage is $16.07, and
- Emeryville’s is $16.97.
Some companies are also guaranteeing a minimum wage that is higher than the federal levels. For example:
- Wal-Mart offers a minimum starting pay of $11 per hour, and
- Amazon’s minimum hourly rate is $15 per hour, though this does not apply to temporary workers who come from staffing agencies.
2. What about overtime pay?
All warehouse workers are entitled to “time-and-a-half” pay, or 1.5 times their normal hourly rate, when they work overtime. Under federal law, overtime is an hour of work performed in excess of 40 hours in a workweek.
This rule comes from the FLSA, which applies across the country.
Some states have more stringent overtime rules.
California is one of them.
In California, overtime is work performed beyond:
- 8 hours in a single workday,
- 40 hours in a single workweek, or
- 6 days in a single workweek.
Overtime is compensated at 1.5 times the normal hourly rate.
Additionally, California law provides premium overtime, or double time, for work performed beyond:
- 12 hours in a single workday, or
- the 8th hour on a 7th consecutive workday.
Compensation for these hours has to be at least twice the worker’s normal hourly rate.
3. How about paid rest and meal breaks?
An increasingly common problem for warehouse workers has been exercising their meal and rest breaks.
While federal employment law does not require meal or rest breaks, many states have laws that do.
In California, for example, non-exempt workers, including most warehouse workers, are entitled to a 30-minute meal break if they are working more than 5 hours in a day. They are also entitled to paid rest breaks of at least 10 minutes for every 4 hours they work.
4. Can my boss make me work off the clock?
No. Both state and federal laws entitle non-exempt workers to pay for the time they have worked. Employers who have a worker clock out and then finish working – or have them work before clocking in – violate these employment laws.
Some warehouse employers violate these employment rules in order to:
- avoid paying overtime or double time,
- keep workers in a part-time status in order to avoid providing benefits, like health care, or
- simply to get more work done.
In California, employers do not need to explicitly tell an employee to work off the clock. They can be held liable if they knew or should have known about the unpaid work and did nothing to stop it.
5. Am I entitled to my unpaid wages after I have been terminated?
Yes. However, even though they are entitled to it, warehouse workers who have quit or been terminated often struggle to receive their final paycheck.
State and federal laws require employers to pay terminated workers the wages that they earned before being discharged.
Federal law does not state that this payment has to be made immediately. Instead, it can happen on the normal payday for the employee’s last pay period.
Many states, California included, require a discharged employee receive their last paycheck immediately.
In California, employees are entitled to receive their final paycheck on their last day, so long as the employee provided at least 72 hours of notice. If this notice is not given, then the final paycheck has to be provided within 3 days. The final paycheck also needs to include compensation for any unused paid time off (PTO). If the employer fails to provide the paycheck on time, they could face a waiting time penalty of the employee’s daily wage for each day late, up to 30 days.
Are these issues common at warehousing jobs at Amazon?
Many of these wage and hour issues are becoming more common as large-scale e-commerce retailers like Amazon take over the labor market by staffing its warehouses with low-wage workers. While it continues to push towards automation, Amazon added 400,000 jobs in its distribution centers last year, alone – most of them as packers and pickers in Amazon warehouses or Amazon fulfillment centers. Much of this hiring aimed to prop up its stressed supply chain during the pandemic.
 Jordan Yadoo, “Why Biden’s Minimum Wage Idea Is Old News for States,” The Washington Post, (Jan. 20, 2021).
 California Minimum Wage Order MW-2021. John Myers, California’s minimum wage will rise to $15.50, triggered by soaring inflation, Los Angeles Times (May 12, 2022).
 See note 2 and Heather Long, “Amazon’s $15 minimum wage doesn’t end the debate over whether it’s creating good jobs,” The Washington Post, (Oct. 5, 2018).
 29 USC 207(a)(2)(C).