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What California workers should know about minimum wage law

California’s minimum wage laws are among the most advantageous in the country. Effective Jan. 1, 2022, the minimum wage will be $15.00 per hour for most people who work for an employer with at least 26 employees and $14.00 per hour for those working in organizations with fewer than 26 employees. Those are $1.00 increases over the current rate. Beginning in 2024, the minimum wage will be $15.00 regardless of how many employees a company has.

Some cities and counties throughout the state have local minimum wages that are higher. Where the local minimum exceeds the state minimum, that higher rate is the one employers need to pay.

Many employees – particularly younger ones in their first jobs or those who are new to the state –may not fully understand our minimum wage laws. This makes it difficult to recognize when they’re not being paid a fair wage -– either intentionally or due to an employer’s own misunderstanding of the law. Let’s look at a few common sources of confusion.

Do tipped employees have to be paid the minimum wage?

In many states, employers with tipped employees only have to pay them the difference between the minimum wage and what they earn in tips. In California, they’re required to be paid at least the minimum wage in addition to any tips they earn.

Does the minimum wage apply to minors?

The minimum wage law does not differentiate between minors and adults. Employees are required to be paid minimum wage, regardless of their age, unless they’re what’s considered a “learner.” According to the California Department of Industrial Relations, this is an employee (of any age) in their “first 160 hours of employment working in occupations in which they have no previous similar or related experience.” Learners must be paid at least 85% of minimum wage.

What if my employer retaliates after I question my wage?

Employers cannot legally retaliate against an employee in any way, including terminating them, if they ask about their wage or point out that they’re not being paid minimum wage.

It’s a good idea to learn about your right to a minimum wage and your options if you’re not being paid the wage mandated under state and local law and if your employer retaliates against you. It may be wise to seek legal guidance to improve your chances of getting the compensation and justice you deserve.

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