Picking a Fight: How California Makes Employment Law Peculiar

by Seyfarth Shaw LLP

Seyfarth Synopsis: Our mission here at Cal-Pecs is to illuminate how California employment law differs from the law that employers generally experience throughout America. In this back-to-basics piece, we provide some background and a brief catalog of stark contrasts.

In 1846, American settlers in Mexican Alta California staged the Bear Flag Revolt. They declared an independent republic, seeking freedom from Mexico. The rebels got lucky: the Mexican-American War soon intervened to dislodge the California territory from Mexican control. California, in 1850, became our thirty-first state.

The legacy of the Bear Flag Revolt continues: the state flag depicts a grizzly bear astride a patch of grass, above the logo “California Republic.” The underlying rebellious attitude has persisted as well. State politicians—especially since the 2016 election—have defiantly proclaimed California’s right to chart its own course on such vital matters as the environment, health care, immigration, and the right to use marijuana.

Perhaps nowhere is California’s independence more prominent than in the area of employment law. Federal labor law hit high tide in the 1930s, with the National Labor Relations Act and the Fair Labor Standards Act. The high tide returned in the 1960s—bringing us the Equal Pay Act, Title VII, and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act—and returned yet again in the 1990s, bringing us the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Family and Medical Leave Act.

In the Golden State, meanwhile, the waves of employment regulation have risen ever higher, even when federal regulations have ebbed. The chart below spots differences between federal and California law in key areas of interest to employers that operate both in California and in the rest of America. In each case, of course, the California version favors employees, plaintiffs, and unions, while never favoring the employer.

Issue U.S. Law & State Law Generally California Law
What’s the minimum wage? $7.25, and higher in a few states $10.50, rising to $15 by July 2020
Must that wage be paid separately for all work, including unproductive tasks? No. Employers generally can comply with an average wage that meets the minimum. Yes. This result has surprised some employers that pay piece rate or commissions.
Must employers pay non-exempt piece-rate and commission workers separately for rest breaks? No Yes
Must employers pay non-exempt employees for required travel outside regular hours? No Yes
What overtime hours generally require premium pay? Only hours worked in excess of 40 per week. Weekly overtime plus daily overtime (over 8 hours per day) plus any time on seventh consecutive workday in a workweek.
Can employers use the “fluctuating workweek method” to compute overtime pay for salaried non-exempt employees? Yes. The regular rate is salary divided by all hours worked, with a 0.5 multiplier for overtime hours. No. The regular rate is deemed to be weekly salary divided by 40, and the overtime multiplier is 1.5, not 0.50.
Is doubletime ever required? No Yes, for hours exceeding 12 per day or 8 hours on a seventh consecutive workday.
Are there civil penalties for labor law violations? Often no, and penalties that do apply are relatively modest. Yes: for many Labor Code violations penalties are typically $100 per employee per pay period.
Can plaintiffs personally sue supervisors and co-workers under anti-harassment statutes? No Yes
Are middle managers, pharmacists, and nurses typically exempt from overtime rules? Yes No
Are employees entitled to reimbursement for routine business expenses? No Yes
What statuses do employment discrimination laws protect? Race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age over 40, disability (and sexual orientation by some judicial readings of Title VII) Those plus sexual orientation, gender identity, transgender status, political affiliation, marital status, breastfeeding, HIV status, requests for disability accommodation, etc.
Can employers invoke the “undue hardship defense” for religious accommodations simply by showing a cost > de minimis, and can they accommodate grooming and dress practices by transferring employees to a more remote location? Yes and yes. No and no. The “undue hardship” defense must meet the same tough test required in disability cases. And it is categorically unreasonable to accommodate a religious dress or grooming practice by moving the employee away from the public.
Can undocumented workers recover back pay on a claim for wrongful termination? No Yes; immigration status of a worker is irrelevant to any California remedy, except reinstatement of employment if prohibited by federal law.
Can an employer fire a worker who provided a false name, SSN or information about legal status to work? Yes No; an employer cannot discharge, discriminate, retaliate or take any adverse action against an employee who updates such information based on a lawful change.
What consequences do employers suffer for denying meal or rest breaks? Breaks that are too short are counted as working time. Failure to provide specified, timely breaks can result in up to two extra hours of premium pay per day.
Are “use it or lose it” vacation plans acceptable? Yes, generally. No
Is paid sick pay required? No Yes
Do farmworkers have the right to unionize, and do unions enjoy special protections with respect to their mass picketing? No and no. Yes and yes. California’s Agricultural Labor Relations Act protects farmworkers, and its Moscone Act limits judicial power to prohibit mass picketing.

As this limited sample of comparisons might suggest, an employer used to doing business elsewhere can find California employment law a real bear. For more detailed treatment, see the 2017 edition of our Cal-Peculiarities: How California Employment Law is Different.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Seyfarth Shaw LLP | Attorney Advertising

Written by:

Seyfarth Shaw LLP

Seyfarth Shaw LLP on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Custom Email Digest
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.


JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at info@jdsupra.com. In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at: info@jdsupra.com.

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.