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Overtime rules for restaurant workers in California

About one in 10 workers in California are employed in the hospitality sector, and the outcomes of a string of recent employment law cases suggest that many of them are not properly compensated when they work overtime. California’s wage and hour law requires employers to pay most workers one and a half times their regular rate when they work more than 40 hours or more than six days in a workweek or shifts lasting longer than eight hours, and workers are entitled to double their regular rate when they work shifts lasting longer than 12 hours or a seventh-day shift lasting longer than eight hours.

Back pay and fines

Employers that flout the wage and hour law law be sued by workers who are treated unfairly, and they can also face heavy fines when their actions are deemed to be flagrant or intentional. A group of seven San Francisco area restaurants were fined a collective $10 million in 2018 for not paying their workers correctly, and a court-ordered a San Diego restaurant to pay two chefs $30,000 in unpaid overtime the following year.

Innocent mistakes

Restaurants are unlikely to be fined if workers are not paid properly because of an isolated bookkeeping error, but even innocent mistakes can lead to official sanctions if violations are widespread and occur over a long period. To avoid fines and lawsuits that can cause reputational damage, employers should:

  • Understand that overtime pay is mandatory, which means workers cannot agree not to receive it.
  • Realize that they must pay overtime rates to qualifying workers even if they did not authorize their shifts.
  • Be aware that work performed at different locations should be combined when overtime pay is calculated.

Keeping pay records

Cases involving wage and hour violations are usually decided based on payroll records and other documents, and the workers who initiate them can seek back pay to cover up to three years of unpaid overtime. This is why it may be wise for workers in California covered by the state’s wage and hour law to keep their paystubs and time cards.