Minimum wage is a guaranteed minimum amount that all California non-exempt employees are entitled to receive for every hour of work. The California minimum wage for 2023 is $15.50 per hour.
A common way that employers avoid paying minimum wage is requiring California employees to work off-the-clock. Another common way is misclassifying California workers as independent contractors.
Below, we discuss 4 common issues workers often face under California minimum wage law, and the 4 exceptions and 5 exemptions under California minimum wage law.
Common Minimum Wage Issues in California (2023)
Tips and Minimum Wage: Employees who receive tips as part of their job, such as restaurant servers, often wonder whether tips count towards minimum wage in California. Tipped employees are entitled to receive California minimum wage in addition to the tips they receive. In some states and under federal law, tips can be subtracted from minimum wage when determining how much to pay an employee. Not so in California.
California vs. Federal Minimum Wage: Federal minimum wage for 2023 ($7.25) is much lower than California’s minimum wage ($15.50). California increased its minimum wage on January 1, 2023, but federal minimum wage hasn’t increased since 2009. California employees are entitled to the higher state-level minimum wage.
Local Minimum Wages (2023): Sometimes cities or counties have their own minimum wages, which can be higher than the California minimum. Residents of that city or county or entitled to the higher local minimum wage. Among the California localities that have minimum wages are: Berkeley ($16.99), Cupertino ($17.20), El Cerrito ($17.35), Emeryville ($17.68), Los Altos ($17.20), Milpitas ($16.40), Mountain View ($18.15), Oakland ($15.97), Palo Alto ($17.25), San Francisco ($16.99), San Jose ($17.00), San Mateo ($16.75), Santa Clara ($17.20), and Sunnyvale ($17.95).
Exempt California Employees: Salaried employees in California may be exempt from earning minimum wage if they earn more than about $64,480, and engage in primarily intellectual, managerial, or creative work that requires independent judgment. Even if these exempt employees work very long hours, they are not guaranteed the California minimum wage rate of $15.50 an hour.
Minimum Wage Exemptions in California
- Workers who perform managerial work may fall into the California executive exemption.
- Office staff may fall within the California administrative exemption.
- Working professionals in the legal, medical, teaching, accounting, or tech industries may fall within the California professional exemption.
- And door-to-door salespeople or merchandisers may fall within the California outside sales exemption.
California Minimum Wage Increased to $15.50
The California legislature passed a law that increased the California minimum wage by $1 per year from 2018 to 2022. By 2022, the minimum wage was $15. Starting on January 1, 2023, the minimum wage was raised by 3.5% to $15.50 to keep up with rising costs of living. After 2023, the minimum wage will increase each year by either 3.5% or the rate of increasing costs of living.
Exceptions: Workers Who Are Not Entitled To Minimum Wage in CA
California minimum wage laws generally apply to all nonexempt workers. But employers do not have to pay California minimum wage to certain of the employer’s family members; apprentices; learners; employees of sheltered workshops or rehabilitation facilities; and workers with disabilities.
If someone in California employs their parent, spouse, or child, they are not legally required to pay their family member the state or local minimum wage.
California minimum wage protections to do not apply to apprentices who are regularly indentured. In modern times, apprenticeships have become less common.
California minimum wage law allows employers to pay lower rates than the state or local minimum wage to workers who are learners. The California labor code defines a “learner” as any employee who has worked less than 160 hours in an occupation where they have no prior experience.
Sheltered Workshops & Rehab Facilities
The California Industrial Welfare Commission (IWC) may issue a special license to nonprofit organizations, such as sheltered workshops or rehabilitation facilities, allowing for certain employees to be paid a special minimum wage to be determined by the IWC.
Workers with Disabilities
The IWC may also issue a special license to employers who hire workers with physical or mental disabilities authorizing the employer to pay the workers at a rate lower than the California minimum wage.
Learn More about California Labor Law
California Independent Contractor Law
California Meal/Rest Break Law