What’s the Difference Between an Exempt vs. Nonexempt Employee in California

What is the difference between being an exempt versus nonexempt employee? If you are an exempt employee in California, you do not have rights to breaks, minimum wage, or overtime pay dictated by state law. So, what are these wage and hour rights that nonexempt employees have, and who is exempt? 

If your boss has improperly denied you pay or breaks required by California law, let us help you recover the compensation and legal remedies you deserve. Bibiyan Law Group, PC, focuses exclusively on employment law matters. Our attorneys’ aggressive representation of employees across California has recovered millions of dollars for employees. We can help you when you face legal challenges with your employer. Contact us today!

California Wage and Hour Laws

Three categories of California labor laws can significantly impact the quality of your workday and the size of your paycheck. These categories are the following: 

  • Minimum wage laws,
  • Meal and rest break laws, and 
  • Overtime laws. 

And when it comes to an exempt versus nonexempt employee in California, only an exempt employee has access to the benefits of the above-listed laws.  

Minimum Wage Laws

In general, nonexempt employees in California must make the equivalent of at least $15.50 per hour for their work. And depending on where a nonexempt employee works in California, they might be entitled to a higher minimum wage rate. For example, Sunnyvale, California, demands the highest minimum wage for those who work there, which is $17.95 an hour. 

Meal and Rest Break Laws

Rest time is a crucial part of a worker’s day, and California employers are obligated to provide a specific amount of rest time to all their nonexempt employees. If you are a nonexempt employee in California, your employer usually must allow you the following rest periods during your workday: 

You should receive a 30-minute unpaid meal break if you work more than five hours in a day (and a second 30-minute meal break if you work more than 10 hours). You should also receive a paid 10-minute rest break for every four hours that you work.

If your employer fails to honor these rules, it might have to pay you an hour’s worth of pay for every break it denied you. 


If you are a nonexempt employee working more than the standard number of hours or days in a workweek, you are entitled to premium pay, called overtime pay. The following premium rates apply in the following work scenarios: 

You are entitled to 1.5 times your regular rate of pay if you work more than 40 hours in a week, more than eight hours in a day, or more than six consecutive days in a workweek.

You are entitled to twice your regular rate of pay for any amount of time you work in excess of twelve hours in a day or in excess of eight hours on your seventh consecutive workday. 

If you discover that your employer has not properly paid you overtime, has not paid you at least the minimum wage, or has not provided you with breaks necessary under state law, you can file a wage and hour complaint with the California Labor Commissioner

Who Is Exempt? 

So, who is exempt from the above rules? Employees who work in certain jobs or who make a certain amount of pay. The following types of employees will likely not have a right to overtime, minimum wage, or breaks: 

  • Professionals;
  • Certain employees in computer software; 
  • Outside salespeople;
  • Employees in commercial fishing;
  • Immediate family members of the employer; 
  • Administrative employees;
  • Certain personal attendants; 
  • Employees in national service programs;
  • Announcers, chief engineers, and news editors;
  • Employees who work for the state or political subdivisions; 
  • Some student nurses;
  • Drivers regulated by state or federal laws;
  • Professional actors;
  • Executive employees;
  • Certain employees working in media;
  • Employees whose work is primarily creative, intellectual, or managerial; and 
  • Employees who make more than 1.5 times the minimum wage and whose earnings are majority commission-based. 

Professional employees include those who are regulated by state licensing boards. They could be teachers, engineers, physicians, lawyers, architects, or accountants. 

But remember that having one of the job titles above does not automatically mean that you are exempt from California laws regarding wages and hours. Whether you are exempt depends on your specific job duties. If you have any questions about whether you are receiving adequate pay and break time, talk to one of our attorneys about your job and your circumstances. 

Call Us When You Need a Good Advocate 

At Bibiyan Law Group, our mission is to protect members of the workforce all around California. Our attorneys are passionate about protecting our employees’ dignity and making sure they have equal footing in legal disputes with their employers. We have been safeguarding employee rights for years and have won substantial awards on their behalf. If you need help, please call us at 323-968-7577 or contact us online to schedule a consultation. Hablamos Español.

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David Bibiyan is a distinguished attorney at Tomorrow Law, renowned for his expertise in employment law. With a strong focus on representing employees in various workplace disputes, he has become a trusted advocate for those facing discrimination, harassment, wrongful termination, and wage and hour issues. Bibiyan’s approach is characterized by a deep understanding of both state and federal employment laws, ensuring that his clients receive knowledgeable and effective representation. His commitment to justice is evident in his dedication to each case, where he meticulously works to secure the best possible outcomes for his clients. Bibiyan’s reputation is built on a foundation of successful case resolutions, marked by his skillful negotiation and, when necessary, aggressive litigation strategies. His work at Tomorrow Law reflects a genuine passion for defending workers’ rights and promoting fair employment practices.

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