As of January 1, 2021, the minimum wage in California is
- $13.00 for employers with 25 or fewer employees, or
- $14.00 for employers with 26 or more employees.1
It is illegal for California employers to pay employees less than the minimum wage.2If your employer violates minimum wage laws, you can recover the money you are owed in a wage and hour lawsuit. If the violation affects numerous employees, a wage and hour class action lawsuit may be appropriate.
But many cities and counties in California have a higher minimum wage. For example, in the City of Los Angeles as of January 1 2021, the minimum wage is $15.00 per hour (or $14.25 per hour for employers with 25 or fewer employees).3
Below, our California employment law attorneys answer the following frequently asked questions about minimum wage laws and employees’ rights in California:
- 1. What is the minimum wage in California?
- 2. Can a California employee agree to receive less than the minimum wage?
- 3. Are there exceptions to minimum wage requirements in California?
- 4. Do California minimum wage laws apply to waiters and other employees who work for tips?
- 5. What can I do if my employer pays me less than the minimum wage?
If you have further questions after reading this article, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group.
As of 2021, the statewide minimum wage in California is:
- $14.00 per hour for employers with 26 or more employees; and
- $13.00 per hour for employers with 25 or fewer employees.4
California’s state minimum wage overrides the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. If you work in California, you must be paid the higher state minimum wage.
In addition, California’s minimum wage is set to increase every year until 2023.5 The following table shows what the minimum wage will be between 2017 and 2023.
|Year||CA Minimum Wage for Large Employers
(26 or more employees)
|CA Minimum Wage for Small Employers
(25 or fewer employees)
|Year||CA Minimum Hourly Wage for Large (26+ Employees) and Small (25 or Fewer Employees) Employers|
|2023||$15.00 for all employers|
In addition, many California localities (cities and counties) have higher minimum wages. If you work in one of these places, your employer must pay you the higher local minimum wage.
California cities with higher minimum wages include (but are not limited to):
- Berkeley: minimum wage of $16.07;6
- Los Angeles: minimum wage of $15.00 ($14.25 for employers with less than 26 employees);7
- Oakland: minimum wage of $14.36;8
- San Francisco: minimum wage of $16.07;9 and
- San Jose: minimum wage of $15.4510
California employees may NOT agree to receive a wage lower than the applicable minimum wage.
The minimum wage is an absolute floor on wages in California. Like other important California wage and hour laws such as California overtime laws, minimum wage laws may not be waived by agreement between employers and employees.
California wage and hour laws provide for several exceptions to the state minimum wage requirements.
The California minimum wage laws do not apply to:
- Student employees, camp counselors and program counselors of organized camps, who only need to be paid eighty-five percent (85%) of the minimum wage;11
- Participants in national service programs such as AmeriCorps;12
- Mentally or physically handicapped employees working for authorized nonprofits and rehabilitation facilities;13 or
- Outside salespeople. An “outside salesperson” is an employee who spends more than half his/her working hours away from the employer’s place of business, selling items or obtaining orders.14
Minimum wage law also does not apply to workers who are classified as independent contractors rather than employees under California employment law.
In addition, so-called “exempt employees” under California wage and hour law (who are exempt from California laws on meal/rest breaks and overtime) typically have to earn at least the minimum wage as one of the conditions of being exempt.
Employees such as waiters who receive a significant portion of their compensation from tips are NOT exempt from California minimum wage laws. They must be paid the same minimum wage as other California employees.15
If your employer fails to pay you the applicable state or local minimum wage for any reason, you have the option of suing your employer with the help of a California wage and hour lawyer.16
The minimum damages you would be eligible to receive in a California minimum wage lawsuit are:
- The amount of wages owed to you in order to bring your compensation up to the minimum wage;
- Interest on that amount;
- Reasonable attorney’s fees; and
- A civil penalty, designed to punish the employer, consisting of $100 for the initial pay period of intentional violation and $250 for each subsequent pay period of violation (whether intentional or not).17
You may also be able to receive additional “liquidated damages” equal to the amount of unpaid required minimum wages and interest. In other words, your total recovery might be twice the amount by which your employer underpaid you.18
However, your employer will not have to pay the additional “liquidated damages” if s/he can show that the failure to pay you the minimum wage was a good-faith mistake.19
By definition, employees whose minimum-wage rights are violated tend to be those who are not well-paid–and may not have the funds to retain a skilled employment lawyer. And employers who fail to pay one employee minimum wage are usually failing to pay others as well.
In these cases, a class-action minimum wage lawsuit often makes sense.
With a class action suit, an attorney represents a larger group of similarly-situated employees whose employer has failed to pay minimum wage. This allows the lawyer to devote more resources to the case.
Finally, it is important to note that it is unlawful for your employer to engage in workplace retaliation against you for complaining about, or bringing a lawsuit over, their failure to pay the minimum wage.
Call us for help…
For questions about the minimum wage in California or to discuss your case confidentially with one of our skilled California labor and employment attorneys, do not hesitate to contact us at Shouse Law Group.
We have local employment law offices in and around Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, San Jose, Oakland, the San Francisco Bay area, and several nearby cities.
Live in Nevada? See our article about Nevada minimum wage laws.
- See California Department of Industrial Relations, Minimum Wage.
- Labor Code 1197 LC — Payment of lower wage than minimum wage. (“The minimum wage for employees fixed by the commission or by any applicable state or local law, is the minimum wage to be paid to employees, and the payment of a lower wage than the minimum so fixed is unlawful. This section does not change the applicability of local minimum wage laws to any entity.”)
- See City of Los Angeles, Office of Wage Standards, Raise the Wage LA.
- See endnote 2 above.
- Labor Code 1182.12 LC — Minimum wage; scheduled increases; adjusted minimum wage; temporary suspension of increases.
- See City of Berkeley Minimum Wage Ordinance.
- See endnote 3 above. See also Los Angeles County, Department of Consumer and Business Affairs.
- City of Oakland, Minimum Wage Ordinance.
- City of San Francisco, Minimum Wage Ordinance.
- Office of the City Manager of San Jose, Minimum Wage Ordinance.
- Labor Code 1182.4 LC — Student employee, camp counselor, or program counselor of organized camp; compensation; value of meals and lodging. (“(a) No student employee, camp counselor, or program counselor of an organized camp shall be subject to a minimum wage or maximum hour order of the commission if the student employee, camp counselor, or program counselor receives a weekly salary of at least 85 percent of the minimum wage for a 40-hour week, regardless of the number of hours per week the student employee, camp counselor, or program counselor might work at the organized camp. If the student employee, camp counselor, or program counselor works less than 40 hours per week, the student employee, camp counselor, or program counselor shall be paid at least 85 percent of the minimum hourly wage for each hour worked. (b) An organized camp may deduct the value of meals and lodging from the salary of a student employee, camp counselor, or program counselor pursuant to appropriate orders of the commission.”)
- Labor Code 1171 LC — Minimum wage law and exceptions. (“The provisions of this chapter shall apply to and include men, women and minors employed in any occupation, trade, or industry, whether compensation is measured by time, piece, or otherwise, but shall not include any individual employed as an outside salesman or any individual participating in a national service program carried out using assistance provided under Section 12571 of Title 42 of the United States Code.”)
- Labor Code 1191 LC — Minimum wage for handicapped employees. (“For any occupation in which a minimum wage has been established, the commission may issue to an employee who is mentally or physically handicapped, or both, a special license authorizing the employment of the licensee for a period not to exceed one year from date of issue, at a wage less than the legal minimum wage. The commission shall fix a special minimum wage for the licensee. Such license may be renewed on a yearly basis.”)
- Labor Code 1171 LC — Minimum wage law and exceptions, endnote 12 above. See also Ramirez v. Yosemite Water Co., Inc. (1999) 20 Cal.4th 785, 793. (“As noted, IWC provides that an employee be considered an outside salesperson if he or she works more than half the working time away from the employer’s place of business selling items or obtaining orders. (Wage Order No. 7-80, 2(I).)”)
- Henning v. Industrial Welfare Com. (1988) 46 C.3d 1262, 1280. (“Therefore, we conclude that the Court of Appeal — although misconstruing the effect of the Industrial Welfare Commission case — correctly decided that section 351 barred the “two-tier” minimum wage system at issue here. We also conclude that the court correctly ordered the relief sought, i.e., the establishment of a single minimum wage of $4.25 per hour for all employees without exception.”)
- Labor Code 1194 LC — Action to recover minimum wage, overtime compensation, interest, attorney’s fees, and costs by employee. (“(a) Notwithstanding any agreement to work for a lesser wage, any employee receiving less than the legal minimum wage or the legal overtime compensation applicable to the employee is entitled to recover in a civil action the unpaid balance of the full amount of this minimum wage or overtime compensation, including interest thereon, reasonable attorney’s fees, and costs of suit.”)
- Same. See also Labor Code 1197.1 LC — Payment of less than minimum wage; penalties; citation; procedure; judgment. (“(a) Any employer or other person acting either individually or as an officer, agent, or employee of another person, who pays or causes to be paid to any employee a wage less than the minimum fixed by an applicable state or local law, or by an order of the commission shall be subject to a civil penalty, restitution of wages, liquidated damages payable to the employee, and any applicable penalties imposed pursuant to Section 203 as follows: (1) For any initial violation that is intentionally committed, one hundred dollars ($100) for each underpaid employee for each pay period for which the employee is underpaid. This amount shall be in addition to an amount sufficient to recover underpaid wages, liquidated damages pursuant to Section 1194.2, and any applicable penalties imposed pursuant to Section 203. (2) For each subsequent violation for the same specific offense, two hundred fifty dollars ($250) for each underpaid employee for each pay period for which the employee is underpaid regardless of whether the initial violation is intentionally committed. This amount shall be in addition to an amount sufficient to recover underpaid wages, liquidated damages pursuant to Section 1194.2, and any applicable penalties imposed pursuant to Section 203. (3) Wages, liquidated damages, and any applicable penalties imposed pursuant to Section 203, recovered pursuant to this section shall be paid to the affected employee.”)
- Labor Code 1194.2 LC — Liquidated damages [in minimum wage lawsuits]. (“(a) In any action under Section 98, 1193.6, 1194, or 1197.1 to recover wages because of the payment of a wage less than the minimum wage fixed by an order of the commission or by statute, an employee shall be entitled to recover liquidated damages in an amount equal to the wages unlawfully unpaid and interest thereon. Nothing in this subdivision shall be construed to authorize the recovery of liquidated damages for failure to pay overtime compensation. A suit may be filed for liquidated damages at any time before the expiration of the statute of limitations on an action for wages from which the liquidated damages arise. (b) Notwithstanding subdivision (a), if the employer demonstrates to the satisfaction of the court or the Labor Commissioner that the act or omission giving rise to the action was in good faith and that the employer had reasonable grounds for believing that the act or omission was not a violation of any provision of the Labor Code relating to minimum wage, or an order of the commission, the court or the Labor Commissioner may, as a matter of discretion, refuse to award liquidated damages or award any amount of liquidated damages not exceeding the amount specified in subdivision (a).”)