We currently hear a great deal about the “minimum wage”—and rightly so. Wages are the foundational element of workers’ rights and it’s important to know the legal basics. Let’s take a brief look at both federal and California state guidelines—and there’s good news for California workers: the minimum wage is significantly higher and progressive in the Golden State.

Understanding the Federal Minimum Wage

Amid much furor, the federal minimum wage has not been raised since 2009 and currently stands at $7.25 per hour ($2.13/hour for tipped employees, $4.25/hour under the age of 20). For complete details, check here with the U.S. Department of Labor.

The laws governing minimum wage were established in 1938 under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“the Act”). The primary function of the Act was to set fair guidelines for workers’ wages as a way to help boost the post-Great Depression economy. As President Roosevelt envisioned, the Act worked. Unfortunately, unlike 83 years ago, current federal minimum wage lags far behind the standard cost of living for most Americans. Many of our Congressional representatives are fighting for a much higher minimum wage by introducing the “Raise the Wage Act,” which proposes what appears like a significant hike in the minimum wage. But given the twelve year lag in increasing the minimum wage, the bill’s sponsors explain why the Act is desperately needed: “There is now no place in America where a full-time worker making the federal minimum wage can afford rent, food, and other essentials.”

But there is hope: while Washington drags its heels on this necessary legislation, states and local governments are free to set their own minimum wage standards. And, as usual, California is a national leader. In fact, when a state has a higher minimum wage, the state prevails. If a city has a higher minimum wage than the state, then the city prevails. Once again, common sense prevails.

What Matters to You: California’s Minimum Wage Guidelines

Californians are experiencing a “stair-step” climb to a $15 an hour minimum wage. The climb began in 2017 and is designed to bolster the lives of struggling workers. Here’s where it stands: Currently, in California, the current minimum wage for employers with 26 or more employees is $14 per hour. If an employer has 25 or less employees, the state minimum wage is $13 per hour. And remember, California employers must also comply with the local city and county laws that govern the minimum wage. For example, if the minimum wage in your city, county, or town is higher, you’re entitled to this higher wage. Here’s looking at you Emeryville, California with a minimum wage of $16.97.

After 2021, the “stair-step” climb continues: On January 1, 2022 the minimum wage levels rise to $15 per hour (employer with 26+ employees) and to $14 per hour (employer with 25 or less employees). By January 1, 2023, all employers—regardless of the number of employees—will be required to pay a minimum wage of $15 per hour.

Two important notes:

  1. The minimum wage applies to temporary workers as well as to those workers who are paid on a piece rate basis or by the amount of units they produce.
  2. To ensure that all employees know their rights, California requires that employers prominently post minimum wage guidelines and that postings must be updated to reflect state and local increases.

The bottom-line: unless you’re an outside salesperson or an independent contractor, you must be paid the legal minimum wage for each hour worked.

Let’s quickly review: Since 1938, when Franklin Roosevelt’s administration passed the Fair Labor Standards Act, workers’ wages have been protected by minimum wage guidelines. Right now, under both state and federal law, most workers must be paid a minimum wage for all hours they work. Here in California, the state has enacted one of the country’s highest minimum wage mandates that will soon hit $15 an hour for the vast majority of employees.

To help you confirm your correct minimum wage—based on your city or municipality in the State of California—here are two links that will assist you: Minimum Wage: Facts & Analysis and The National Law Review.

If you believe you’re not being paid the proper and legal minimum wage for your hard work, contact us at Lawyers for Employee and Consumer Rights—we’re here for you. Take advantage of our free consultation today.

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