In California, do I have to be paid for all the time I spend at work?

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Donn Taketa - Employment & Labor - Super Lawyers

Answered by: Donn Taketa

Located in Westlake Village, CATaketa Villasenor LLP

Westlake Village, CA
Phone: 818-851-7087
Fax: 818-889-4497

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A: If you are an employee in California, you are entitled to be paid in full, and on time, for all the work you do and all the time that you spend under your employer’s control. It’s a simple rule. But sometimes it’s hard to know when you are not being paid properly. Here are some common ways that employers violate the rule:

Off-the-clock work: According to the law in California, all the time that you are working, and all the time that you are under your employer’s control, should be paid for and should be reflected on your time records, such as time sheets, time cards and pay stubs.

You may not be getting paid properly if all the work you do, or all the time you are under your employer’s control, isn’t showing up on your time records. Another red flag that you may not be getting paid properly under California law is if your employer makes statements such as: “Just write in the same hours every day, it all averages out.” Or, “You only have to record time for the hours at the office, but any work you do at home is considered on your time.” Or, “We don’t pay you for on-call time, only for the time you actually respond.” Or, “We don’t have the budget for overtime, so don’t put down more than eight hours in a day.”

Not paying you for nonproductive time: Sometimes, instead of getting paid by the hour or hourly, you get paid by the task, which is known as paying on a “piece rate basis.” Examples of payment on a piece rate basis in California include truck drivers paid by the number of miles driven, construction workers or installers paid by the number of units installed, cleaners or janitors paid by the number of houses or offices cleaned, and technicians paid by the number of services performed.

But if you’re paid by the task, and your employer asks you to do something else, how are you going to get paid for that? Under California law, the answer is that you should be paid hourly for any work when you are under your employer’s control, even if you can’t earn a piece rate for that work.  So, for example, if you are a truck driver paid by the mile, but you have to spend time each day loading and unloading the truck, or attending safety meetings and filling out paperwork, or even waiting for other people to load and unload the truck, California law requires your employer to pay you for all of this time that you are not driving but still under your employer’s control.

Likewise, if you are an installer or a cleaner, and you have to drive to different job sites, California law requires your employer to pay you hourly for the driving or travel time. And if you are an installer and have to repair a defective installation, you should still be paid for the time you spend doing the repair, even if there is no piece rate credit for the repair. If your employer says things like, “We don’t pay for travel time,” or, “Your pay already includes the time you may have to spend repairing a defective installation,” or, “The time you spend going to safety meetings or performing other tasks is rolled into the piece rate,” then you may not be getting paid for all the hours you work under California law.

Deductions and expenses: In California, if you use tools, uniforms, cellphones, or other equipment, on the job, your employer generally has to pay for them. In the same way, California law generally requires your employer to pay if your tools or equipment break, get dirty, or require replacement. That’s part of the cost of doing business, and under California law, your employer should be paying for these business expenses. 

So, for example, if your employer or the employee handbook says things like, “You have to pay for your own uniform,” or, “You have to pay to have your truck washed,” or, “If you break or lose the equipment, then the cost to replace it will be deducted from your paycheck,” your employer may have committed a wage violation under California law. Likewise, if you use your cellphone for work but your employer doesn’t reimburse you for at least part of your cellphone bill, or if money is deducted from your paycheck for tools, uniforms or equipment, you may not be getting paid properly under California law.

Retaliation: In California, employers are not supposed to punish employees who complain about not being paid all of their wages, or who express concern that there is a minimum wage or overtime violation. Under California law, if that happens, the employer, in addition to having to pay damages, may also have to pay a penalty of up to $10,000 for each act of unlawful retaliation against an employee who complains about potential wage violations.


If you are in California and believe you may not have been paid for all the work you performed, or that you are being retaliated against for complaining about not being paid for all your wages, please give us a call for a free initial consultation in English or Spanish.

Disclaimer: The answer is intended to be for informational purposes only. It should not be relied on as legal advice, nor construed as a form of attorney-client relationship.

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