Employment laws are so wide-ranging and detail-specific that businesses often ignore the simplest but most sacrosanct rules. For a broader and detailed understanding, a good place to start is at the website of the Labor Commissioner – Dept. of Industrial Relations. However, allegations of failure to comply with the following five fundamental principles account for a huge number of the claims I defend:
- Most of your employees must be paid an hourly wage, not salary. Salaries can only be paid to very special employees who perform certain tasks specified by law.
- All your employees must be provided with unpaid 30 minute (or longer) meal periods, no later than by the beginning of the fifth hour worked (e.g., end of the 4th hour). They must be allowed complete freedom from any job duties during their meal periods.
- All your employees must be allowed to take 10 minute paid rest breaks during every 4 hours worked.
- Any employee who has worked more than 8 hours in a day or 40 hours in a week is entitled to overtime pay – yes, even if the employee remained at the workplace longer than his shift or clocked in early.
- Employers are responsible for maintaining records proving that they have complied with wage and hour laws. Employees must not alter time records even if employees clock in or out before or after their shift started or ended.
There are many other requirements including sick leave pay (accrued at a minimum of rate of 1 hour for every 30 hours worked), medical leave – up to 12 weeks for employers with >50 employees, and anti discrimination, harassment, and retaliation laws. Violation can result in penalties which are thousands of dollars more than the amount of wages at issue. Claims can be brought on behalf of not only the disgruntled employee, but all the employees at the workplace. So it is very important to protect yourself through rigid compliance and record keeping. There are also many tips, tricks, and forms that can be used to help comply with these laws and to protect you against a claim. Consult your trade group or employment attorney. But in the meantime, make sure you are complying with the basics.