There are few things more frustrating than your employer refusing to give you fair compensation. In many cases, such employers go unpunished because they expect their employees to be too unfamiliar with the law to press the issue. Two of the main ways that employers trick their employees out of payment are breaking minimum wage laws and breaking overtime laws. Collectively, these sorts of infractions are referred to as wage and hour violations.
Therefore, one of the best ways to take a stand is to educate yourself on the law and how it’s on your side. Laws vary significantly from state to state, so you’ll need to seek out specialized information, ideally from a wage and hour attorney. For those in California, here is a breakdown of wage and hour violations, what they mean, how to spot them, and how West Coast Employment Lawyers might be the best fit for your needs.
As of 2019, there are two separate California minimum wages to keep in mind, with the distinction based on how big the employing company is. For companies with twenty-five or fewer employees, it’s $11.00 per hour. For companies with twenty-six or more, it’s $12.00 per hour. The reasoning is simple: smaller businesses might not be able to pay their employees as much, so they’re given more leeway in order to encourage local business.
To start with, your employer might be taken advantage of this particular distinction. If your employer has twenty-six or more employees, they might still be paying you the lower $11.00 per hour. This fact might be concealed by them only having a few employees over the limit, allowing them to murky the waters and potentially deceive any investigations.
However, your minimum wage might not actually be $11.00 or $12.00 per hour. Just like the federal minimum wage is only $7.25 and thus overridden by the higher state minimum wage, so too can state minimum wage be overridden by local minimum wage. If your city or county has a higher minimum wage and you are only being paid at what the state mandates, then you are being taken advantage of.
Lastly, the terms “exempt” and “non-exempt” get thrown around a lot when it comes to the rights of workers. While it’s true that there are major differences between the two groups, that’s not actually true when it comes to minimum wage. Both exempt and non-exempt employees must be paid than the minimum wage at the very least. If that’s not happening at your place of employment, then it’s time to contact an employment lawyer.
Overtime requirements are a little complicated, which makes it easy for employers to shift around the numbers and obfuscate the truth. There are two different kinds of overtime (“time and a half” and “double time”) and three different situations where they come up (excess work in a single day, excess work in a week, and work on the seventh day of a week).
What you need to know is that if you work more than eight hours on any given day, you are entitled to overtime. The same goes for if you work more than forty hours in a week or any time at all on the seventh day of a week. You then get entitled to even more pay if you work for more than twelve hours in a single day or more than eight hours on the seventh day of a week.
One of the primary ways that employers get out of paying overtime is by adjusting the numbers and distributing work more evenly. If you work ten hours on one day and two hours the next, then they end up needing to pay ten hours of regular pay (from the first eight hours on the first day and the two hours on the second) and two hours of one and a half time pay. However, if they adjust the numbers and say you only worked eight hours the first day and four hours the second, then they only need to pay you for twelve hours of regular pay, effectively saving them from paying you an entire hour’s worth of work.
At the more subtle end of things, an employer might heavily suggest that employees work off the clock. By encouraging that employees work on their own time to meet deadlines or be considered for advancement opportunities, employers can completely get out of paying for overtime work. Such employees should consult an employment lawyer to determine if they are owed for past overtime.
When it comes to employee rights, there are a number of differences between “exempt” and “non-exempt” employees. These differences can be incredibly important in determining how you get treated, so it’s critical that you know which category you fall under.
The widest category of exempt employees is professional, executive, and administrative employees. This is a pretty broad category, but it’s narrowed down further with several additional criteria: more than half of your time must be spent on intellectual/managerial/creative work, you must have independent discretion involved in your work, and you must earn a monthly salary that’s at least twice as large as the state minimum wage.
Beyond that, you also have groups that have specific requirements.
- Licensed doctors, surgeons, and skilled programmers tend to be exempt employees.
- Private school teachers are exempt from overtime if they make more than public school teachers.
- Employees that mainly earn through commission are usually exempt.
It’s somewhat common for employers to blend the line and mislead employees about whether they’re exempt or not, often to deny them overtime. Signing a contract doesn’t necessarily make you an exempt employee even if it explicitly says that it does. In such a case, your best bet is to contact a California wage and hour lawyer.
Misclassifying Employees as Independent Contractors
Just like there are major differences between exempt and non-exempt employees, there are also major differences between those groups and independent contractors. Independent contractors tend to have fewer rights than employees, particularly when it comes to overtime requirements, which can lead to situations where employees illegally designate their employees as contractors to avoid paying extra.
A wide variety of factors are considered in determining if an employee is actually an independent contractor, including the general nature of their industry, the types of skills they use, whether payment is based on time or result, if they have a large degree of control over how the result is accomplished, and even whether the involved parties believe that it is an employer/employee situation or not. With so many different criteria at work (and some of which are subjective), it can be easy for employers to distort the factions and call their employees contractors when they really aren’t.
What Should You Do?
If you believe that you have been wronged by your employer when it comes to California wage and hour problems, then it’s time to get in contact with a wage and hour attorney. An expert like those at West Coast Employment Lawyers can first help you figure out if you have a valid case on your hands, then help you get compensation. You will get useful advice on how to deal with difficult complications like whether to take a settlement or press for full damages.