California Wage Orders

What are wage orders and why do they matter to an employer?  Why do they matter to an employee?

For an employer, a wage order governs the wages, hours and working conditions in California.  For example, Wage Order 02 guides an employer in the personal services industry on what to pay an employee, what employment records must be kept, when meal and rest periods are mandatory, and other details.  Each wage order is meant to be self-explanatory but in reality is difficult and boring to read.  Wage orders must be posted in the workplace at a location where employees can read them during the workday.

In California, it is the job of the Industrial Welfare Commission (IWC) to establish the minimum wages paid to employees in California and to ascertain the hours and conditions of labor and employment in the various occupations, trades and industries in California.  While the amount of the minimum wage has in recent years been set by statute, specific employers and employees still become subject to the minimum wage only through, and under the terms of, the applicable wage orders.  There are 17 wage orders.  Copies of the wage orders may be downloaded below (some are available in Spanish on the IWC’s website).

Why are wage orders important for an employee?

The Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) enforces the provisions of the wage orders.  If an employer fails to follow the wage order an employee may file a claim with the DLSE.  Filing a claim is easy, one simply fills out this form, and submits it to their local division of the DLSE (see the last page in each wage order).

Currently the minimum wage in California is $8.00/hr.  Some cities have higher minimum wages (example San Francisco with it’s living wage that was increased to $9.79/hr on January 1, 2011).

What happens if the employer does not follow the wage order?  There are a number of things that could happen.  First, the employee can sue.  Under CA Labor Code 1194, “[A]any employee receiving less than the legal minimum wage or the legal overtime compensation applicable to the employee is entitled to recover in a civil action the unpaid balance of the full amount of this minimum wage or overtime compensation, including interest thereon, reasonable attorney’s fees, and costs of suit.”

Attorney’s fees and cost of suit can, and frequently do, run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Second, and far more insidious is the criminal punishment.  CA Labor Code § 1199 states: “Every employer or other person acting either individually or as an officer, agent, or employee of another person is guilty of a misdemeanor and is punishable by a fine of not less than one hundred dollars ($100) or by imprisonment for not less than 30 days, or by both, who does any of the following: (a) Requires or causes any employee to work for longer hours than those fixed, or under conditions of labor prohibited by an order of the commission.  (b) Pays or causes to be paid to any employee a wage less than the minimum fixed by an order of the commission.  (c) Violates or refuses or neglects to comply with any provision of this chapter or any order or ruling of the commission.”


Branigan Robertson is a California employment lawyer who exclusively represents employees in workplace disputes. He focuses his practice on sexual harassment, wage & hour, wrongful termination, and retaliation. Visit his website at or call his office at 949.667.3025.

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Filed under Exempt, Hourly or Salary?, Non-exempt, Overtime, Wages and Hours

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