Wage orders explain the rules about a variety of employment related issues. The most common topics in wage orders deal with minimum wage, overtime, breaks, working conditions, etc. Wage orders are employment laws that employers must follow.

Wage orders provide employers and businesses with specific rules about many employment matters. The most common type of wage order is about the minimum wage in the state. Wage orders often change based on the type of industry or job. Wage orders can also be different depending on the state where you live. Employers must also follow all labor laws. This includes both state and federal laws about employment..

California wage orders provide employment rules that employers in the state must put in place at their businesses. In California, there are different wage orders for different categories or types of industries and jobs. California wage orders explain the rules about topics like:

  • Minimum wage;
  • Overtime wages;
  • Time and pay reporting;
  • Vacation;
  • Paid sick time;
  • Record keeping;
  • Meal breaks;
  • Rest periods;
  • Hours;
  • Working conditions;
  • Food and lodging; and
  • Uniforms and equipment, etc.

California has a minimum wage order that sets the minimum wage. Minimum wage is the absolute lowest amount of money, usually per hour, that an employer must pay an employee for a job. Starting January 1, 2020, an employer with 26 or more employees must pay at least $13 per hour. An employer with 25 or lower employees must pay at least $12 per hour.

California wage orders usually must be posted in a certain way so that employees can see them. Posting rules allow employees to get important information about their employment rights.

What Are Employers Obligated to Do?

It is important to remember that wage orders are employment laws. An employer must strictly follow all the rules in any wage order. If an employer does not follow a wage order, there can be legal consequences. An employer is required to:

  • Know the wage order that applies to their business and/or industry;
  • Understand all the rules and requirements contained in the wage order;
  • Follow all the rules and requirements of the wage order; and
  • Post the wage order at the workplace in a place where employees can see it.

The Industrial Welfare Commission (“IWC”) wage orders generally have a penalty provision. The penalty provision says that an employer can face civil penalties for violating an IWC wage order. There are also penalties under federal or state labor law. An employer who intentionally or repeatedly violates rules about minimum wage and overtime pay could be required to pay monetary fines. These fines can become very high if the violation is very serious.

Are There Any Exceptions to California Wage Orders?

The IWC creates wage orders. The Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (“DLSE”) oversees and enforces these employment rules.

In California, the IWC created a different wage order for each category or type of industry. The rules about work related issues changes based on the industry type. There are 17 different California IWC wage orders:

  1. Manufacturing industry;
  2. Personal services industry;
  3. Canning, freezing, and preserving;
  4. Professional, technical, clerical, mechanical, and similar occupations;
  5. Public housekeeping industry;
  6. Laundry, linen supply, dry cleaning, and dyeing industry;
  7. Mercantile industry;
  8. Industries handling products after harvest;
  9. Transportation industry;
  10. Amusement and recreation industry;
  11. Broadcasting industry;
  12. Motion picture industry;
  13. Industries that prepare agricultural products for market on a farm;;
  14. Agricultural occupations;
  15. Household occupation;
  16. Certain on-site occupations in the construction, drilling, logging and mining industries; and
  17. Miscellaneous employees.

There are some exceptions to wage orders. The most common exception is for exempt employees. Exempt employees are “exempt” or excused from the usual wage and hour laws. Employers do not need to follow the same rules for exempt employees.

Under California law, there are three basic requirements for an employee to be exempt:

  • Minimum salary: The employee must receive a salary that is two times the minimum wage.
  • White collar responsibilities: The employees job duties must be mostly administrative, professional, or executive.
  • Independence: The job must require the employee to use their own judgment to perform their duties.

How are California Wage Order Disputes Resolved?

If an employee feels that they have experienced either wage theft or labor law violations, they can file a complaint with the Labor Commissioner’s Office. Wage theft generally covers a wide variety of illegal pay practices. This could include not paying minimum wage or not giving overtime pay. Other labor law violations could include many things. For example, not giving lunch breaks or illegally employing children could be labor law violations. Employees can file a complaint online, in person, or by mail.

In California, the Labor Commissioner’s Office conducts an investigation of labor law complaints. Once a complaint is filed, the Labor Commissioner’s Office will start an investigation. Investigators will usually start by visiting the workplace. They will often do an inspection and interview employees. Employees are usually asked about their wages, breaks, lunch time, and any other questions related to the complaint.

After the investigation, investigators will make a decision about whether there has been a wage order violation or other labor law violation. Investigators can issue citations for civil penalties and for wages owed to employees.

Employers have the right to appeal the decision of the investigation. They can appeal to have the citation amount reduced or dismissed completely. When an employer appeals, a hearing will be held by the Labor Commissioner’s Office. During the hearing, they will review the evidence submitted by the investigators and by the employer. A Hearing Officer will make a decision.

If the employer disagrees with the Hearing Officer’s decision, they can appeal the decision to the Superior Court.

Are There Any Defenses to California Wage Orders’ Violations?

If there is a dispute about whether there has been a violation of a California wage order, employers may have certain defenses. If you have been accused of a violation, it is important to immediately contact an attorney to discuss any possible defenses.

One defense to a California wage order violation is to argue that the person asking for wages is not an employee. This defense depends on whether the person is an employee versus an independent contractor. For this defense, the employer argues that the individual is an independent contractor. The difference between an employee and an independent contractor can be complicated. Usually, it depends on the amount of control the person has when doing their job. The more independent the individual is, the more likely they are an independent contractor.

Another defense to a wage order violation claim is the good faith dispute defense. The good faith defense is an argument made by the employer that there is a question or dispute about whether the employee is actually owed wages. The employer argues that the employee is not actually owed any wages. The employer can argue that the dispute is based on the law or the facts of the situation. If the employer is successful, the employee cannot recover wages and the employer does not owe penalties.

A specialized attorney will know about any other possible defenses in your specific case.

Do I Need an Employment Lawyer?

It is recommended that you contact an experienced California employment lawyer in your area. A skilled and knowledgeable lawyer can make sure that you are following all the requirements of wage orders. Wage orders and labor law can be complicated. A lawyer can help you determine which work order applies to your business and help you understand the rules. You should immediately contact a lawyer if an employee files a claim that you have violated a work order. A lawyer can represent you and offer advice on how to resolve the issue.