California Workers' Rights  

Wage and Hour Pathfinder

"Work is in the first place 'for the worker' and not the worker 'for work.' Work itself can have greater or lesser objective value, but all work should be judged by the measure of dignity given to the person who carries it out."

Laborem Exercens (On Human Work), Pope John Paul II


Getting Your Bearings 

Determining Coverage 


Protections Available


Worker protection laws are designed to help balance the very real inequality that exists in the bargaining power between employers and employees.  The idea that a worker is able to walk away from an unfair bargain to one that better suits him is a fiction.  Too often, the only other option is no option--unemployment, poverty, homelessness.

This inequality led to unspeakably bad working conditions during the industrial revolution, prompting the federal government and several states to pass laws establishing minimum standards to which employers had to adhere.  Amongst other things, these standards included both minimum wage and maximum hour provisions.

The first of these laws were passed in the beginning of the last century.  Since then, there have been countless amendments, many new laws, and numerous interpretations and regulations issued by courts and agencies.  This has resulted in an often overlapping and contradictory body of law--a veritable gordian knot--difficult for lawyers unfamiliar with the area to navigate, let alone the workers it is designed to protect. This pathfinder will be, hopefully, the Alexandrian Solution to the knot:  a slice down the middle that reveals where you should grab hold.   

Intended Audience 

I have written it to be of primary use to lawyers unfamiliar with wage and hour law.  I believe, however, that workers, too, will find some useful information here to help them understand their rights and point them in the direction of help if needed.  Toward this end, I have included links to attorney referral resources, as well as to organizations that provide free or low cost legal services.  I encourage you to contact one of these fine organizations if you feel your rights have been violated.  They will be able to provide advice tailored to your unique situation.


Employment law is a vast area.  It covers everything from discrimination to privacy rights, family leave to workers' compensation, unemployment insurance to workplace safety.   This pathfinder will deal only with wage and hour law, including minimum wage and overtime pay.

I have focused on the intersection of federal and California laws.  I believe, though, that much of the information about federal protections, as well as research strategies, will be applicable more broadly, and I have included information for out-of-state researchers where I came across it.