Q. Can an employee agree to work for less than the California Minimum Wage?

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A. No. Under California Labor Code, employees are entitled to receive compensation of not less than the state’s mandated minimum wage. Effective January 1, 2008, workers in California are expected to receive hourly rate of not less than $8.00 per hour. This cannot be waived nor negotiated through any private agreement unless the employee falls under any of these exceptions:
• Outside salesperson paid on commission
• Employed through apprenticeship program normally indentured under the State Division of Apprenticeship Standards
• Learners in occupation (but limited to 160 work hours)
• Individuals who are the parent, spouse, or child of the employer
Learners, regardless of age, may be paid not less than 85% of the prevailing wage rates rounded to the nearest nickel in the first 160 hours of employment, provided that they have no previous related experience.
Likewise, rehabilitation facilities, sheltered workshops and other nonprofit organizations employing physically or mentally disabled workers are exempted from the minimum wage law. California Labor Code mandates the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement to issue a special license authorizing such employers to pay less than the state’s minimum wage.
Although the prevailing minimum wage is $8.00, some employers are required to pay a higher local living wage. Specifically, employees working in a city where a local living wage ordinance has been enacted are entitled to receive a wage rate higher than the California minimum wage. For example, a minimum wage ordinance in San Francisco mandates all employees to pay workers, including temporary and part-time workers, at least $9.79 per hour. In San Diego, a similar wage ordinance has been recently enacted requiring employers to pay not less than $11.00 per hour. The same goes in Santa Monica’s “tourism zone” where employers must pay at least $13.05 per hour. In the recent years, similar local living wage ordinances have rapidly been adopted by various local governments in California. For more information, you can discuss wage rates with your local labor standards enforcement office or better yet with a qualified California Wage Law Attorney.
If you are or have been paid less than the regulated California minimum wage, you may be entitled to file a dispute with the Labor Commissioner or file a lawsuit in court. The expertise of a California Wage Law Attorney will definitely help strengthen your claim and thus ensure just compensation. Depending on the arbitrator’s or court’s decision, your employer may be required to pay the unpaid amount, doubled, plus interest and damages. Take note, however, that claims should be made within the prescribed time in the statute of limitations.

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