What is California’s Minimum Wage?

Under state and federal law, most workers must be paid a minimum wage for all hours worked. California has enacted one of the country’s highest minimum wages, which will eventually hit $15 an hour for the majority of the State’s employees. The minimum wage adjusts each year on January 1. The minimum wage applies to temporary workers as well as workers who are paid on a piece-rate basis, or by the amount of units produced.

Unless you are an independent contractor, properly salaried, or an outside salesperson, you must be paid the minimum wage for each hour worked. So what do the minimum wage laws mean for you? Our experienced wage and hour attorneys break it down. 

California’s 2021 Minimum Wage 

California enacted a law that raises the minimum wage each year until it reaches $15.00 per hour for all non-exempt employees. Even if you agree to work for less than the minimum wage, you have a right to the statutory minimum wage. Your agreement to work for less is not enforceable.  

Unfortunately, California’s $15.00 minimum wage doesn’t go into effect until January 2022 for employers with 26 or more employees and January 2023 for employers with 25 or fewer employees.  

Until then, the minimum wage climbs each year. Below is a chart of the California minimum wages for the last several years: 

California Minimum Wage 


More Than 25 Employees 

25 or Fewer Employees 

January 1, 2017 



January 1, 2018 



January 1, 2019 



January 1, 2020 



January 1, 2021 



January 1, 2022 



January 1, 2023 



Local Minimum Wages 

Many cities and counties in California have passed laws requiring employers to pay higher minimum wages than required by state law. These cities and/or counties include San Francisco and many of the surrounding towns, as well as Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, many of the incorporated towns within Los Angeles County, and many of the towns in the Napa-area wine country.  

The minimum wages vary in these towns and counties. For example, San Francisco’s minimum wage is $16.07 this year. In Los Angeles, the minimum wage is already $15.00 for large employers, and will adjust to $15.00 for smaller employers beginning in July 2021.

You Have a Right to a Minimum Wage for Every Hour Worked – No Averaging Allowed

Because California requires that you be paid the minimum wage for each hour worked, an employer cannot average your hourly wages to determine whether you are making the required minimum wage. If an employer pays you a “premium” or “shift differential,” they still must pay the minimum wage for all other hours worked (even the hours where you are not paid a premium). You are also entitled to the minimum wage from your employer if you are paid in tips. 

Your employer also cannot “round” your time down when it results in you being paid less than a minimum wage for each hour worked. This means your employer cannot dock your pay by 15 minutes if you are just a few minutes late. You can learn more about when “rounding” is illegal here

Piece rate employees and most commissioned salespeople have the right to the minimum wage for every hour worked. These employees must be paid separately for their “non-productive time,” including rest periods. Whether you are on the clock for “non-productive time” is a fact-specific question, and you should talk to a lawyer if this issue applies to you. 

What Happens If You’re Not Paid the Minimum Wage?

When an employer pays you less than minimum wage, you are entitled to the unpaid wage amounts and a penalty of the same amount. That is, you can recover up to twice the amount of underpaid wages, as well as legal fees spent in trying to get your wages.  

Your employer also cannot retaliate against you for exercising your right to be paid the minimum wage. This means they cannot threaten to discharge, demote, suspend, or in any manner discriminate against you for exercising your right to minimum wages, including demanding the minimum wage, asking about being paid the minimum wage, or complaining about other illegal wage practices. 

Exemptions from Minimum Wages and The Impact of Proposition 22 

A number of workers are not required to be paid minimum wage for each hour worked, including salaried employees, outside  salespersons, independent contractors, and certain other hourly employees.  

One major category of employees not covered by the minimum wage laws are “app-based” transportation and delivery workers after the passage of Proposition 22 in 2020. Under Proposition 22, these employees are now defined as independent contractors to whom the minimum wage laws don’t apply.  

Talk to an Experienced Minimum Wage & Employment Attorney

At King & Siegel LLP, we have helped hundreds of workers hold employers accountable through legal actions. If you have been denied your rightful wages, paid less than the minimum wage, retaliated against, or wrongfully terminated, our attorneys are here to help.

Need legal help? We provide free, confidential consultations to California workers. You should contact us as soon as possible to make sure your claim is still within the time limits set by law. If you are a victim of wage theft or other violations of the employment laws, contact us today through our website or give us a call at (213) 214-3757 to schedule a free consultation.

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