Minimum Wage Laws in California

Local cities minimum wage
(Updated April 2020)

In California, the minimum wage laws for 2020 is:

  • An employer with 25 or less employees     $12.00
  • An employer with 26 or more employees  $13.00

However, many local cities and counties have higher minimum wage (see below). With limited exceptions, employees working in California has to be paid at least minimum wage. Some employees will be exempt. This would include people in sales outside of traditional companies (like door-to-door sales). It would also include those who are related to an employer. Finally, apprentices who are indentured following the Apprenticeship Standards outline in the state of California are also exempt.

An exception exists for learners, no matter how old they are. They cannot be paid below 85% of what minimum wage is, rounded up by the nickel. This stipulation exists for the initial 160 hrs of them being employed where they had no prior experience.

Additionally, there is an exception for employees having a mental or physical disability. An exception also exists for nonprofits, including rehab and shelters where people with disabilities are hired. These places can receive special licenses from the DLSE. This license will authorize an individual to be employed and paid below the state minimum wage.

What is currently the minimum wage in California?

Minimum Wage for Employers with 25 Employees or Less Minimum Wage for Employers with 26 Employees or More
January 1, 2018 $10.50/hour $11.00/hour
January 1, 2019 $11.00/hour $12.00/hour
January 1, 2020 $12.00/hour $13.00/hour
January 1, 2021 $13.00/hour $14.00/hour
January 1, 2022 $14.00/hour $15.00/hour
January 1, 2023 $15.00/hour

As of 1/1/2018, minimum wage in California is $11/hr across the board. This goes for employers having over 25 employees. For employers employing 25 or fewer employees, minimum wage is $10.50. On 1/1/2019, there was an increase to the minimum wage to $12/hr. This held true for employers with over 25 employees. The minimum wage for an employer with 25 or less employees went up to $11/hr. Going forward, the minimum wage will increases annually, up to 2023.

What is the minimum wage in my city?

California Municipal Minimum wage January 2020

  • Alameda: $13.50
  • Belmont: $15.00
  • Berkeley: $15.59
  • Cupertino: $15.35
  • Daily City: $13.75
  • El Cerrrito: $15.37
  • Berkeley: $12.53
  • Emeryville: $16.30
  • Fremont: $13.50 (26+ employees), $11.00 (1-25 employees)
  • Los Altos: $15.40
  • Los Angeles (city and county): businesses with 26 or more employees: $14.25 (7-1-19) and $15.00 (on 7-1 20). Businesses with 25 or fewer employees: $13.25 (7-1-19), $14.25 (7-1-20) and $15.00 (7-1 21).
  • Malibu: $14.25 (26 or more employees), $13.25 (1-25 employees)
  • Milpitas:$15.00
  • Mountain View:$16.05
  • Menlo Park:$15.00
  • Oakland:$14.14
  • Palo Alto:$15.40
  • Pasadena: $15.00 (26 or more employees), $14.25 (1-25 employees)
  • Redwood: $15.38
  • Richmond: $15.00
  • San Diego: $13.00
  • San Francisco:$15.59
  • South San Francisco:$15.00
  • San Jose: $15.25
  • San Leandro: $14.00
  • San Mateo: $15.38
  • Santa Clara: $15.40
  • Santa Monica: $13.25 (1-25 employees), $14.25 (26 + employees)
  • Sunnyvale: $16.05

What are the differences between the minimum wages on the local, state, and federal level?

A majority of employers within the state have to abide by state and federal laws regarding the minimum wage. There are also local jurisdictions that may have their own minimum wages in place. In recent years, there have been quite a few cities setting a minimum wage for people working within them. When there are conflicting minimum wage rates, employers have to abide by what the strictest regulations are. This means that the highest minimum wage is the one that employers need to go by.

California’s present minimum wage is higher that the one at the federal level. This means employers in the state need to pay their employees at least what the state minimum wage rate is. The only exception is those employees exempt under CA law. Also, when a local jurisdiction puts in place a higher minimum wage, employees have to get paid what the local minimum wage is. This is true even if it is higher than the state rate.

Are employees allowed to agree to work less than what the minimum wage is?

No, they are not. Employers are obligated to pay the minimum wage. There is no sort of agreement that an employee could make with an employer to pay less. This includes any agreements unions make. Employers have to follow the law regarding this.

Is there a different minimum wage for minors compared with adults?

No, there is no difference. Whether you are an adult or a minor, you have to get paid at least what the minimum wage is.

If you wait tables, can an employer use tips as a way to pay the minimum wage?

No, they cannot do that. Employers are barred from using employee tips as credit towards paying what the minimum wage is.

What can employees do when employers don’t pay the minimum wage?

Employees could file a wage claim with the DLSE. They can also sue their employer to get back the wages owed to them. Also, if you are no longer employed by your employer, you can also submit a claim for the waiting time penalty you are able to receive.


What happens after you file a wage claim?

When you have filed your claim with one of the DLSE’s local offices, it gets assigned to a Deputy Labor Commissioner. This individual will ascertain how to move forward with the claim. They can decide on whether to refer the claim to a conference or hearing, or have it dismissed.


In the event that it is decided that a conference will be held, both the employee and employer will get a notification in the mail. This notification will include the day, time, and location of the conference. The conference is held to ascertain whether a claim is valid or not. The goal is to resolve the claim without it going to a hearing. However, if it is not resolved, it will normally get referred to a hearing. The other option is that it will get dismissed because there was not enough evidence to support the claim.

During a hearing, the employer, employee, and any witnesses, will be testifying under oath. The entire hearing is also recorded. Once the hearing is complete, there will be an Order, Decision, or Award decided on. This ODA will be given to the parties present at the hearing.

Either the employer or employee have the ability to appeal the Order, Decision, or Award and take it to a civil court. That court will decide when the trial should be held. Both the employee and employer will get a chance to bring forward evidence and witnesses to support their cases. Any evidence and testimony provided during the previous hearing will not be taken into account in the court. An employer may sometimes appeal a case. If so, the DLSE has the ability to provide representation to an employee who does not have the means to do so.

What can an employee do when they prevail during a hearing, yet the employer won’t pay. What if they appeal the ODA?

If an ODA favors an employee, where there was no appeal, and an employer isn’t paying the ODA, there will be a judgment. The DLSE will make the court place a judgment against an employer in this situation. This will hold the same gravitas as whatever judgment a court entered. Also, you have the option of collecting the judgment on your own or assigning that action to the DLSE.

Can employees do anything when employers retaliate against them, regarding the minimum wage?

There are sometimes cases where an employer will retaliate in some way against an employee. This is a something that comes up if they ask them why they aren’t getting paid minimum wage. Regardless of how an employer discriminates or retaliates against you, they are acting unlawfully. If they fire you because you ask why you weren’t getting paid the minimum wage, you can file a claim. If you threaten to file a claim and they fire you, they will also be penalized. The claim you file has to be filed with the office of the Labor Commissioner. Your other option is to sue your employer in court.


Minimum Wage

Brad Nakase, Attorney (Employment Lawyer & Labor Law)

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