Table of contents
  1. Wage and Hour Laws
  2. Employee Compensation and Benefits
  3. Workplace Rights and Protections
  4. Child Labor Laws
  5. Workplace Safety and Health
  6. Labor Union Regulations
  7. Employment Contracts and Severance
  8. Additional Laws That Might Apply to You
  9. Navigating Legal Issues and Resources
  10. Disclaimer

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Wage and Hour Laws

Minimum Wage

The minimum wage in California as of January 1, 2023, is $15.50 per hour. 

This applies to all employers, regardless of the number of employees they have. The minimum wage cannot be waived by a collective bargaining agreement or with an employee’s consent. 

Exemptions to California’s minimum wage

In California, the minimum wage law doesn’t apply to:

  • Outside salespersons.
  • Apprentices under the State Division of Apprenticeship Standards.
  • Employees who are the employer’s parent, spouse, or child.
  • Learners in a job with no prior experience during their initial 160 hours of employment (they must be paid at least 85% of the minimum wage). The minimum wage then applies after these first 160 hours.
  • Mentally or physically disabled employees, where the employer has a relevant license from the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement. However, this allowance is being phased out, and by January 1, 2025, it will be illegal for employers to pay employees with disabilities a subminimum wage. 

City and county minimum wage laws

Some cities and counties in California set a higher minimum wage than state law. Federal minimum wage laws may also apply to certain employers. Where multiple minimum wage laws apply, employers must pay employees the highest minimum wage. 

Unless stated otherwise, the minimum hourly wages in the table below apply to all employers, regardless of the business’ size. 

City/CountyMinimum Wage per Hour
Daly City$16.07
East Palo Alto$16.50
El Cerrito$17.35
Foster City$16.50
Half Moon Bay$16.45
Hayward$16.34 ($15.50 for employers with 25 or fewer employees)
Los Altos$17.20
Los Angeles$16.04
Los Angeles County$15.96
Menlo Park$16.20
Mountain View$18.15
Novato$16.07 ($15.53 for employers with 25 or fewer employees; $16.32 for employers with 100 or more employees)
Palo Alto$17.25
Redwood City$17.00
San Carlos$16.32
San Diego$16.30
San Francisco$16.99
San Jose$17.00
San Mateo$16.75
San Mateo County$16.50
Santa Clara$17.20
Santa Monica$15.96
Santa Rosa$17.06
Sonoma$17.00 ($16.00 for employers with 25 or fewer employees)
South San Francisco$16.70
West Hollywood$17.50 ($17.00 for employers with 49 or fewer employees)

Tipped Minimum Wage

There is no tipped minimum wage in California. The minimum wage of $15.50 applies. 

Tips are the sole property of the employee who receives them. The employer cannot take a percentage. Tips are not wages. For overtime, tips are excluded when calculating an employee’s regular pay rate. 

Employers must give employees credit card tips in the next scheduled pay cycle immediately after receiving the tip. Employers can require tip pooling, where employees share tips between themselves according to a set policy, as long as the employer doesn’t take a percentage. 

Meal Breaks

California labor law dictates that employers must provide employees with:

  • At least 1 30-minute meal break for every 5 consecutive hours worked. This can be waived if the employee works no more than 6 hours and both the employer and employee agree.
  • A further 30-minute meal break where employees work more than 10 consecutive hours. This can be waived if the employee works no more than 12 hours and both the employer and employee agree.

Unless the employee is relieved of all work duties and is free to leave during their break, their break counts as hours worked, and they must be paid for it at their regular pay rate. 

Employers must record employee meal breaks. 

Employers who fail to provide adequate meal breaks must pay employees 1 additional hour for each day they didn’t have a meal break. This additional pay does not count as hours worked for the purposes of overtime. 

Specific requirements and exceptions apply to workers in industries including film, construction, drilling, logging, health care, and mining. 

Rest Breaks

Employers must provide employees with an uninterrupted 10-minute rest break for every 4 hours worked. This includes where the employee has worked for a major portion of the 4 hours (i.e., more than 2 hours).

Employers should provide:

  • A first rest break between 3.5 and 6 hours.
  • A second between 6 and 10 hours.
  • A third between 10 and 14 hours.

Rest breaks should be taken as close as possible to the middle of an employee’s work hours. Employees who work less than 3.5 hours do not require a rest break. 

Rest breaks count towards hours worked and employers must pay employees for them at their regular rate of pay. 

Employers must provide employees with suitable rest facilities (bathrooms not included). However, employers cannot require employees to remain on-site or on-call during a rest period. 

Employees who work in extreme weather conditions, for example, high heat, must be allowed a paid 5-minute break in a protected area as often as required, in addition to their meal and rest breaks.

Employers who fail to provide adequate rest breaks are required to pay employees 1 additional hour of pay at the employee’s regular pay rate for each day they didn’t have a rest break. 

Specific rest laws apply to certain types of workers, including residential care facility workers, dancers, construction workers, security guards and safety employees at petrol stations, and crew members of commercial fishing boats. 


Employers must keep paper and digital payroll records for each employee for at least 3 years. These records must include the names and addresses of all employees and show the daily hours worked and wages paid to employees, as well as the number of piece-rate units earned and their pay rate, if applicable. 

Payroll records must be kept at a central location or where ‌employees work. 

Employees have a right to inspect and copy their payroll records. If an employer fails to provide an employee with these records within 21 days of their request, the employee can seek to recover a $750 penalty. 

As of May 10, 2023, employers with 100 or more employees must send an annual pay data report to the Civil Rights Department. This report must detail the median and mean hourly rates of its employees by race, ethnicity, and sex for each type of job. 

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Employee Scheduling Laws

While California does not have state-wide predictive scheduling laws, several cities do. These are:

  • Berkeley
  • Emeryville
  • San Francisco
  • San Jose


Berkeley’s predictive scheduling laws apply to:

  • Employers in the building services, healthcare, hotel, manufacturing, retail, or warehouse service industries that employ at least 56 employees worldwide.
  • Restaurants that employ at least 10 employees in Berkeley and at least 100 worldwide.
  • Employees who earn less than double the minimum wage. 

They require employers to give employees:

  • A written good faith estimate of their schedule before starting employment.
  • 2 weeks’ notice of work schedules.
  • 11 hours between clopening shifts (where an employee works the closing shift, followed by the next opening shift).

Employers must compensate employees when a shift is changed or canceled after they’ve been notified of their schedule.


Emeryville’s predictive scheduling laws apply to retail employers with at least 56 employees worldwide and fast food companies with at least 56 employees globally plus 20 employees in Emeryville. 

Employers are required to give employees a:

  • Good-faith estimate of their work schedule.
  • Good-faith estimate of their anticipated shifts with at least 14 days’ notice. 

Employers must compensate employees when a shift is changed or canceled after they have been notified of their schedule. 

San Francisco

San Francisco’s predictive scheduling laws apply to retail employers with at least 40 locations worldwide and 20 employees in San Francisco.

Employers must:

  • Provide new employees with a written good-faith estimate of their expected monthly shifts.
  • Give employees a good-faith estimate of their work schedule at least 14 days in advance.
  • Pay employees an additional 1 to 4 hours—depending on the length of the shift and the notice given—if the schedule is changed with less than 7 days’ notice. 

San Jose

San Jose’s predictive scheduling laws apply to employers with at least 36 employees who either have premises in San Jose or are subject to the San Jose Business License Tax. 

Employers are required to offer extra hours to current part-time employees before recruiting more staff. Limited exceptions apply, including where doing so would cause the employer hardship.

Employee Compensation and Benefits

Overtime Laws

California has its own overtime law in addition to the overtime provisions under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). California’s overtime law expands on the FLSA’s requirement to pay employees 1.5 times their regular pay rate for any hours worked over 40 hours in a workweek.

Under Californian law, employers must pay non-exempt employees at 1.5 times their regular rate for all hours worked over:

  • 8 hours in a single workday (up to and including 12 hours).
  • A 7th consecutive workday (up to and including 8 hours).
  • 40 hours in a workweek.

Employees are entitled to overtime pay at 2 times their regular rate when they work:

  • More than 12 hours in a single workday.
  • More than 8 hours on the 7th consecutive workday.

Overtime pay rates apply regardless of whether the overtime was authorized by the employer or not.

Overtime laws do not apply to certain types of employees, including executive, administrative, and professional employees, employees in the computer software field, and professional actors.

Reporting Time Pay

California labor laws dictate that an employee must be paid reporting time pay when they report to work but are sent home immediately, or when they work less than half of their scheduled work day. 

Reporting time is calculated as half the scheduled day’s work at the employee’s regular rate of pay, which can be no less than 2 hours or more than 4 hours.

If the employee has to report to work for a second time during a workday and receives less than 2 hours of work, they must be paid for 2 hours at their regular rate of pay. 

The definition of “reporting to work” is broad. Reporting time obligations can be triggered by an employee:

  • Attending their workplace.
  • Calling in to confirm they are needed for their on-call shift.
  • Logging on to a computer remotely.
  • Attending a client’s work site. 

Exceptions to reporting time pay include where the interruption to work is due to:

  • Threats against employees or property—for example, a bomb threat.
  • The advice of civil authorities.
  • A failure of public utilities, including electricity, water, or gas.
  • Events outside of the employer’s control—for example, a natural disaster. 

Reporting time counts as wages and must be paid when an employee’s employment is terminated.

Payday Frequency and Method

Employers must generally pay employee wages at least twice each calendar month on regular, designated paydays. There are some exceptions to this for certain employees, including executive, administrative, and professional employees and workers employed by a farm labor contractor. 

Wages earned from the 1st to the 15th of each month must be paid no later than the 26th day of the same month. Wages earned from the 16th to the last day of each month must be paid no later than the 10th day of the following month. 

Employers must pay overtime on or before the next regular payday following the period when the overtime was earned. They must also post a notice in the workplace stating the date, time, and location of wage payments. 

Employees can be paid by cash, check, or direct deposit into an account, with the employee’s consent. 

Paystub Requirements

Employers must provide employees with paystubs semi-monthly or at the time they are paid. This does not include salaried employees exempt from overtime.

These paystubs need to include the:

  • Employee’s name and last four digits of their Social Security number or employee identification number.
  • Employer’s legal name and address.
  • Inclusive dates of the employee’s pay period.
  • Total hours worked.
  • Applicable hourly rates and the corresponding number of hours worked.
  • Employee’s gross wages.
  • Piece-rate units earnt and pay rate, if applicable.
  • Deductions.
  • Net wages.

Employees must also receive written notice of their accrued sick leave or paid time off when they are paid. Many employers include an entry for this on their paystubs.

Employers can issue electronic paystubs. However, they need to give employees the option of receiving paper versions.

Wage Deductions and Garnishments

Employers can withhold employees’ wages where:

  • They must do so by state or federal law, including as a result of a court order to pay a debt (wage garnishment).
  • They do so with the employee’s permission to cover deductions like insurance premiums or benefit plan contributions.
  • They are authorized to so do by a wage or collective bargaining agreement. 

In general, creditors such as credit card providers cannot garnish an employee’s wages without a court order. Other creditors—including federal student loans, taxes, and child support—typically do not need a court order to garnish wages. 

However, the most a creditor can garnish is 25% of an employee’s weekly disposable earnings, or 50% of the amount by which the employee’s weekly disposable earnings exceeds 40 times the state hourly minimum wage, whichever is the lesser of the two. 

Final Paycheck Laws

In California, when an employee is discharged by the employer, the employer must immediately pay them all of their wages. 

When an employee quits by giving at least 72 hours’ notice, the employer must pay them all of their wages immediately upon quitting. 

When an employee quits by giving less than 72 hours’ notice, the employer must pay them all of their wages within 72 hours of the time of quitting. 

Accrued, unused vacation time must be included in a final paycheck. 

Waiting time penalties apply to any late final paychecks. These are calculated as the employee’s day rate for each day the wages remain unpaid, up to 30 days. 

Specific final paycheck laws apply to seasonal workers involved in the curing, canning, or drying of food, as well as those who work in the film or oil drilling industries or at live entertainment venues. 

Workers’ Compensation 

Regardless of their business’s size, Californian employers must have workers’ compensation insurance if an employee suffers a workplace injury or illness. Employers without workers’ compensation insurance can face criminal penalties. 

There are 5 types of workers’ compensation benefits available:

  • Medical treatment, including doctor visits, surgeries, and medication.
  • Temporary disability benefits, which partially cover an employee’s wages when they can’t return to work within 3 days of their injury or illness.
  • Permanent disability benefits are calculated based on a range of factors, including the extent of the disability, the employee’s age, and the employee’s job.
  • Supplemental job displacement benefits, for education-related retraining where an employee is unable to return to work.
  • Death benefits, including funeral expenses and support payments to dependents. 

The specific benefits available to an employee depend on the employer’s workers’ compensation‌ policy. Employers need to display a workplace poster informing employees about workers’ compensation and where to seek medical treatment. 

Employees must report workplace illnesses or injuries requiring treatment beyond first aid to their employer in writing within 30 days of the injury or illness. 

Employers must then give the employee a compensation claim form within 24 hours of receiving their report. 

Employees who are injured at work or develop a work-related illness may also be able to access disability insurance under the State Disability Insurance program. Employees are usually prohibited from receiving both workers’ compensation and disability insurance benefits at the same time. 

In the event of a dispute, the Division of Worker’s Compensation’s (DWC) Information and Assistance Unit can help. If their claim is denied, an employee can file a case with the DWC for a judge to decide it. Disagreements about medical treatment must go through an independent medical review. 

Unemployment Insurance

Any employer who pays more than $100 in wages to a Californian employee in a calendar year must pay unemployment insurance tax for that employee. 

Unemployment insurance tax is calculated as a percentage of the first $7,000 of the employee’s wages. The current rate is 3.4% for new employers for 2 to 3 years, which then goes up to 6.2%. These rates are subject to annual change.

To be eligible for unemployment benefits, an employee must:

  • Have earned enough wages during the base period, as determined by the Employment Development Department (EDD).
  • Be totally or partially unemployed through no fault of their own.
  • Be physically able and available to work.
  • Be ready and willing to immediately accept work. 

An employee who was let go due to misconduct or quit without good cause is generally not eligible for unemployment benefits. 

Weekly benefit amounts start at $40 and go up to $450. Eligible individuals may initially receive benefits for up to 26 weeks in a 12-month period. In certain situations, this can be extended by up to 13 weeks. During periods of high unemployment, benefits may be extended multiple times. 

Employees apply to California’s EDD for unemployment benefits online or by phone, mail, or fax.

Workplace Rights and Protections

Discrimination and Harassment

California law prohibits private employers with 5 or more employees from discriminating against employees because of a protected characteristic, including:

  • Race or color.
  • Ancestry or national origin.
  • Religion or creed.
  • Age (40+).
  • Sex or gender, including pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding.
  • Sexual orientation.
  • Gender identity or expression.
  • Mental or physical disabilities
  • Medical conditions.
  • Reproductive health decisions.
  • Genetic information.
  • Marital status.
  • Veteran status.

This prohibition applies to all stages of the hiring and employment process, including job advertisements, interviews, promotions, separation, compensation, and training. 

All employers, regardless of size, are prohibited from harassing an employee based on a protected characteristic. Employers also cannot retaliate against an employee who exercises their rights under anti-discrimination law. 

Employers with 5 or more employees must provide employees with sexual harassment training. This training must be delivered every 2 years, with 1 hour for nonsupervisory employees and 2 hours for supervisory employees.

If an employee or job applicant experiences discrimination, they can report it to the Civil Rights Department (CRD), which will investigate and help to resolve it via dispute resolution. Employees generally have up to 3 years after the alleged discrimination occurred to file a complaint with CRD. 

If the CRD reasonably believes an employer has violated anti-discrimination law and the parties are unable to resolve the matter, the CRD can file a lawsuit against the employer. Employees can also sue the employer, with or without a CRD investigation, after first obtaining a Right-to-Sue notice from the CRD. 

Potential remedies for employment discrimination include back and front pay, reinstatement, policy changes, training, damages, and attorney fees.

Federal anti-discrimination law also applies to employers in California. 

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Leave Laws

✔ Family and Medical LeaveUnder the California Family Rights Act, employers with 5 or more employees must provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in relation to:A serious health condition.Caring for a spouse, parent, child, or designated person with a serious health condition.The birth, fostering, or adoption of a child.The military deployment of a spouse, parent, or child.
A designated person is someone who’s related by blood or the equivalent of a family relationship with the employee. 
Employees can access this leave after 12 months at an organization.
✔ Paid Sick LeaveEmployees must receive at least 24 hours of paid sick leave each year. To be entitled to paid sick leave, an employee must have worked for the same employer for at least 30 days and completed 90 work days before taking the leave. 
Employees can use sick leave to recover from their own illness or injury, and/or obtain diagnosis, treatment, or care. They can also use up to half of their sick leave to care for an unwell family member. 
Employees must be allowed to carry over their accrued sick leave into the following year, up to a maximum of 48 hours. 
✔ Paid Family LeaveCalifornia’s State Disability Insurance program provides for up to 8 weeks of paid family leave in certain situations. If eligible, this allows an employee to take time off in relation to caring for a sick family member, bonding with a child, or the military deployment of a spouse, parent, or child.
✔ Pregnancy and Parental LeaveCalifornia does not require employers to specifically provide paid parental or pregnancy leave.  However, Californian employers with 5 or more employees must offer at least 122 days of pregnancy disability leave. This allows employees to take time off for disability as a result of pregnancy or a medical condition related to childbirth. 
𐄂 Vacation and Personal LeaveEmployers are not required to offer employees paid vacation or personal leave. However, where they do, employers must include any accrued, unused vacation leave in an employee’s final paycheck. 
Employers cannot apply a “use it or lose it” policy to accrued vacation leave but they can cap leave accruals. 
𐄂 Holiday LeavePrivate employers are not required to provide employees with unpaid or paid holiday leave. If they do, employers must follow the rules set out in their relevant policy or employment contract.  

Military, Jury Duty, and Other Types of Mandatory Leave

There is a range of other types of mandatory leave in California. 

Military LeaveEmployees who are also members of the California and national armed forces or National Guard must be given service leave. On their return, they must be allowed to return to their position or an equivalent one. 
Employers are also prohibited from terminating an employee without cause for 1 year after they return.  
Reserve Corps members of the US Armed Forces, National Guard, or Naval Militia can take up to 17 days of unpaid leave a year. State military reservists can take up to 15 days of unpaid leave.
Jury Duty LeaveEmployees can take leave to attend jury duty or appear as subpoenaed witnesses, as long as they give the employer reasonable notice. Employers do not have to offer paid jury duty leave. 
Domestic Violence LeaveVictims of domestic violence can take leave to seek relief to protect their and their children’s safety—for example, to apply for a restraining order. 
Employers with 25 or more employees must also allow domestic violence victims time off to access medical, psychological, and victim support services. 
Employees can use accrued paid leave, like vacation or personal leave, to take time off in relation to domestic violence issues. 
Employers generally cannot require employees to provide proof to access this type of leave. 
Employees should give their employer reasonable notice of their intended leave. However, if the employee has to take leave and is unable to give their employer advance notice, they cannot be disciplined if they provide proof like a court order or written statement. 
Bereavement LeaveEmployers with 5 or more employees must provide at least 5 days of bereavement leave to employees who have worked for the company for at least 30 days. Bereavement leave does not have to be paid leave.
Employees can take this leave in relation to the death of a family member, which includes a child, parent, spouse, sibling, grandparent, grandchild, domestic partner, or parent-in-law. 
Voting LeaveEmployers must offer employees up to 2 hours of paid leave to vote if the employee has insufficient non-work hours to do so. Employees must give their employer 3 days’ notice of their intention to take voting leave. 
Emergency Response LeaveEmployees in California can take protected unpaid leave to perform emergency response duties. These include reserve peace officers, volunteer firefighters, and emergency rescue personnel. 
Employers with 50 or more employees must offer up to 14 days of unpaid leave each calendar year for employees to attend scheduled emergency response training. 
School LeaveEmployees caring for school-aged children can take unpaid time off to attend to school disciplinary matters. 
Larger employees with 25 or more employees must also offer unpaid general school involvement leave for parents and guardians to participate in school activities or respond to a school emergency. 
While employers can require employees to use their accrued paid leave for school-related reasons, employees must be allowed unpaid leave if no paid time off is available. 
Organ and Bone Marrow Donation LeaveEmployers with 15 or more employees must offer a combination of paid and unpaid leave to employees involved in organ donation. The first 30 days of this leave are paid while the second 30 days are unpaid. Employees can be required to use 15 days of accrued paid leave for organ donation. 
Employers must also offer at least 5 days of paid bone marrow donation leave. Employers can require employees to use paid leave to cover this. 
Employers can request supporting documents from employees confirming the donation and its medical necessity. 

Child Labor Laws

Anyone under the age of 18 must have a permit to work, with limited exceptions. Certificates are usually issued by the minor’s school district.  

A permit sets out the maximum hours a minor can work daily and weekly, the hours during the day that they can work, and any additional limitations or restrictions. 

12 and 13-year-olds14 and 15-year-olds16 and 17-year-olds
When school is in sessionCan work only during school holidays and weekends. Cannot work before or after school. Up to 3 hours per day before or after school, if they have completed 7th grade. 
On non-school days, up to 8 hours a day, up to a maximum of 18 hours a week. 
Up to 4 hours per day on a school day if they have completed 7th grade.
On non-school days or days before a non-school day, up to 8 hours, up to a maximum of 48 hours a week. 
When school isn’t in sessionUp to 8 hours a day, up to a maximum of 40 hours a week.Up to 8 hours a day, up to a maximum of 40 hours a week.Up to 8 hours a day, up to a maximum of 48 hours a week.
Limit on hoursBetween the hours of 7 am and 7 pm, except from June 1 to Labor Day, when they can work until 9 pm.Between the hours of 7 am and 7 pm, except from June 1 to Labor Day, when they can work until 9 pm.Between the hours of 5 am and 10 pm, or 12:30 am on an evening before a school day.
Limit on types of workCannot be employed in a hazardous occupation prohibited to other minors or enrolled in a Work Experience Education Program.Cannot be employed in a range of roles, including hazardous occupations prohibited to 16 and 17-year-olds, industries including mining or manufacturing, and roles requiring the operation of machinery or vehicles.Cannot be employed in a hazardous occupation under federal regulations. Includes sawmilling, roofing, meat packing, and mining. Cannot work in gas station roles involving certain tasks or selling alcoholic beverages or lottery tickets without adult supervision.

In California, different rules apply to minors working in the entertainment industry. 

If an employer breaches any child labor laws, they may be charged with a criminal offense and face fines or imprisonment. 

Workplace Safety and Health

The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, referred to as Cal/OSHA, regulates workplace safety. Cal/OSHA has the power to conduct workplace inspections to ensure safety and health laws are being followed. 

Employers must provide employees with a safe and healthful workplace. This places a range of obligations on employers, including:

  • Preparing and regularly updating a written Injury and Illness Prevention Program.
  • Conducting workplace inspections to identify health and safety issues and correct any hazards identified.
  • Providing employees with personal protection equipment where required.
  • Warning employees of potential workplace hazards by using labels, posters, and signs.
  • Posting the Cal/OSHA poster to inform employees of their rights and responsibilities.
  • Providing any necessary training or medical examinations as required by Cal/OSHA.
  • Maintaining necessary health and safety records.

Employers must also report any work-related serious injury, accident, or death to Cal/OSHA immediately. Failing to do so within 8 hours may lead to fines of up to $5,000. 

When it comes to workplace safety and health, employees must notify their employer of any hazard that could cause an injury or illness. They must also follow safety and health laws and regulations at work.

Employees have the right to:

  • File a complaint with Cal/OSHA about unsafe work conditions.
  • Notify a Cal/OSHA inspector of unsafe working conditions during an inspection.
  • Access their employer’s Injury and Illness Prevention Program.
  • Refuse to do unsafe work. 

Employees are also protected against employer retaliation when exercising their workplace safety and health rights.

Labor Union Regulations

California is not a right-to-work state. This means that employers can require employees to join a union or pay union dues as a condition of employment. If an employee refuses, their employment may be terminated or they may lose a job offer. 

Employers cannot discriminate or retaliate against employees for creating, joining, or assisting a union.

Employment Contracts and Severance

Employment Contract Laws

Employment contracts in California can be oral or written, express or implied. In an express contract, the terms of the contract are stated and agreed to by both the employer and the employee. In an implied contract, the parties’ words or conduct imply their agreement to certain terms. 

California is an at-will employment state. This means an employer or employee can terminate the contract at any time without notice of reason. However, the parties can agree on different terms in their employment contract, either expressly or impliedly. There are also some exceptions, including where a collective bargaining agreement applies or where the termination is a violation of public policy—for example, where it amounts to discrimination. 

Employers and employees are generally free to negotiate all terms of an employment contract, provided they are lawful. This includes wages, scheduling, leave, severance pay, and grievance procedures.

In California, non-compete clauses are unenforceable and cannot be included in employment contracts. However, employment contracts can prohibit employees from engaging in unfair competition—for example, using a previous employer’s customer list. 

Similarly, non-solicitation clauses are generally prohibited under California law. There are some limited exceptions to this—for example, where the clause is necessary to protect an employer’s trade secrets. 

Non-disclosure clauses relating to workplace harassment or discrimination settlements are also prohibited. 

Severance Pay

California employers are not required by law to pay employees severance pay upon their termination. However, they can choose to offer it. Employees should refer to their employment contract or employer’s policy for guidance on any severance pay available to them. 

Additional Laws That Might Apply to You

Lactation BreaksEmployers must provide employees wishing to express breastmilk for their child reasonable breaks to do so. 
Where possible, this break time should run concurrently with the employee’s meal or rest breaks. Lactation breaks outside of this do not need to be paid. 
Drug and Alcohol TestingEmployers can require pre-employment drug and alcohol testing of employees in limited circumstances. Testing must be related to the role, consistent with business necessity, and implemented fairly and consistently. It can only be required where the employee has been offered the job and before their first day of work.
Random drug and alcohol testing in the workplace is generally prohibited, save for some very limited exceptions—for example, in highly safety-sensitive positions. 
Employers can generally require testing where they have a reasonable suspicion an employee has used drugs or alcohol—for example, after a serious accident. This suspicion should be based on objective facts. 
“Ban the Box” LawEmployers with 5 or more employees cannot ask job applicants about their criminal history before making a job offer. 
Whistleblower ProtectionsEmployers cannot discriminate or retaliate against employees who exercise a legally protected right to report suspected violations by their employer. This includes where an employee:Reports a potential violation of law to their immediate supervisor.Reports workplace safety concerns to Cal/OSHA.Files a discrimination complaint with the CRD. 
Retaliation includes actions such as termination, demotion, disciplinary action, or denial of professional development opportunities. Employees who are subject to retaliation have the right to sue their employer for damages. 
Cal-COBRA lawsFederal COBRA law allows employees to continue their health insurance coverage after losing their job or having their hours cut.
Cal-COBRA covers employees who aren’t eligible for federal COBRA benefits, allowing them to keep their group health plan for up to 36 months. Where an employee is entitled to 18 months of coverage under federal COBRA law, the Cal-COBRA law may extend this to 36 months. 
Social Media AccountsEmployers cannot ask employees or job applicants to provide their social media usernames or passwords. Employers cannot retaliate against an employee for refusing to provide these details. 
Contraceptive EqualityEmployers cannot require employees or job applicants to disclose details related to reproductive health decision-making or discriminate on this basis.

Both the state of California and various municipalities introduced supplemental paid sick leave in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The majority of these expired at the start of 2023, except for Oakland

The new Cal/OSHA Covid-19 Prevention regulations came into effect on February 3, 2023, updating employers’ obligations in relation to COVID-19 in the workplace. Among other requirements, employers must:

  • Address COVID-19 in their Injury and Illness Prevention Program.
  • Provide face coverings to employees when required by the California Department of Public Health.
  • Make free testing available to employees during an outbreak.
  • Report major outbreaks to Cal/OSHA.
  • Notify employees of potential exposure to COVID-19 via written notice to all employees or by posting a workplace notice for 15 days.
  • Inform employees who cannot attend work due to COVID-19 of any benefits they may be able to access under federal, state, or local law, the employer’s policies, or the employment contract.

There is a range of government departments that provide online resources to help both employers and employees understand California labor laws. These include:

Legal Aid also provides information, guidance, and free legal advice to Californian workers. 

Labor laws are complex and multilayered. In addition to the laws discussed above, federal and local laws and regulations can also apply to employers and may sometimes conflict with each other.

For these reasons, it’s essential you speak to your legal department or an attorney about your specific obligations as an employer or rights as an employee when it comes to labor laws in California. 


The information presented on this website about California labor laws is intended to be an overview for informational purposes only. It is not intended as legal advice. Laws and regulations regularly change and may vary depending on individual circumstances. While we have made every effort to ensure the information provided is up-to-date and reliable, we cannot guarantee its completeness, accuracy, or applicability to your specific situation. Therefore, we strongly recommend that readers seek guidance from their legal department or a qualified attorney to ensure compliance with applicable laws and regulations. Please note that we cannot be held liable for any actions taken or not taken based on the information presented on this website.

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