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California Off-the-Clock Work Laws

The Guha Law Firm Dec. 7, 2023

As an employee in California, it is important to know your rights and protections when it comes to working in the state of California. Unfortunately, many employers may try to take advantage of their employees.

Sometimes, employers may try to require employees to work off the clock without compensation. This practice is not only illegal, but it also undermines your hard work and dedication when you’re on the clock.

If you find yourself in this kind of situation, it’s important to understand that you have rights. It’s also important to read up on California’s off-the-clock work laws and how they might apply in your particular wage disupte

Laws Regarding Off-the-Clock Work in California

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is a federal law that sets the standards for overtime pay, minimum wage, and child labor. With off-the-clock work, FLSA mandates that non-exempt employees must receive overtime pay for hours worked over 40 in a workweek. It also forbids employers from requiring employees to work off-the-clock without compensation. 

In California, the state labor laws often provide more protections to workers than the federal FLSA. For instance, the California Labor Code Section 510 requires employers to pay non-exempt employees overtime for:

  • any hours worked over 8 in a workday,

  • over 40 in a workweek, and

  • for the first 8 hours worked on the seventh consecutive day of work in a workweek. 

Employers are also prohibited from asking or requiring employees to work off-the-clock under California Labor Code Section 1198 and the Industrial Welfare Commission (IWC) Wage Orders. 

Additionally, the California Supreme Court case, Troester v. Starbucks Corp., ruled that employers must compensate employees for all hours worked, including small amounts of off-the-clock work. This ruling reinforced the state's commitment to protecting workers' rights. 

Understanding California's Overtime Rules: Non-Exempt vs. Exempt 

So, in essence, non-exempt employees in California are entitled to receive overtime pay for any hours worked over 8 hours in a day or 40 hours in a week. This means that if you are a non-exempt employee, your employer must pay you time and a half for any extra hours worked. However, this rule does not apply to exempt employees, such as managers and professionals. This rule also has certain exceptions, of course. 

Working Off-the-Clock: What it Actually Means 

Working off-the-clock refers to any work performed by an employee that is not compensated by their employer. This can include tasks such as answering emails, completing paperwork, or attending meetings outside of regular work hours. While minor tasks may not seem like a big deal, they can add up and result in significant unpaid work. Note that even if an employee agrees to work off-the-clock, it is still illegal for the employer not to compensate them. 

Can an Employer Require Me to Work Off-the-Clock? 

Simply put, no. Employers cannot require their employees to work off the clock. Under California law, all hours worked must be paid at least minimum wage and any overtime pay for non-exempt employees. This means that even if an employee agrees to work off the clock, it is still the responsibility of the employer to ensure they are properly compensated. Ultimately, employees have the right to refuse any unpaid work. 

Off-the-Clock Work from the Employer’s Point of View

Some employers may argue that the off-the-clock work you completed was voluntary or that it was not authorized by them. However, generally speaking, these arguments are not valid excuses for failing to compensate employees for their time. Employees may not always be aware of their rights and may feel pressured to work off the clock, but it is important to know that it is illegal for employers to take advantage of their employees in this way. 

Employee knows or should have known it was voluntary 

Even if an employee willingly performs off-the-clock work, it does not mean they have waived their right to compensation. Employers are responsible for ensuring that their employees are aware of their rights and the laws surrounding off-the-clock work. 

Employee wasn't authorized by the employer

Employers may argue that they did not authorize or approve off-the-clock work, but this does not necessarily absolve them from their responsibility to pay their employees. Additionally, having a policy against off-the-clock work does not automatically mean that employers can require employees to perform unpaid work. Employers are still responsible for monitoring and enforcing their policies to ensure employees are paid fairly. 

Protecting Yourself as an Employee

If you believe you have been required to work off-the-clock without compensation, there are steps you can take to protect yourself.

  1. First, document all instances of off-the-clock work, including the date, time, and tasks performed.

  2. Next, bring this to the attention of your employer and request compensation for the unpaid work.

If your employer does not comply, you may be able to file a complaint with the California Labor Commissioner or seek legal representation. Remember, you have the right to be fairly compensated for your time. 

Skilled Legal Guidance

Working off the clock without pay is a violation of employee rights in California, and no one should have to endure it. Employers must adhere to state laws and compensate their employees properly. Do not hesitate to speak up if you believe your employer is taking advantage of you. If you live anywhere in Orange or the rest of Southern California, including San Bernardino, Los Angeles, and Riverside counties, set up a consultation with The Guha Law Firm today.