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California Increases Minimum Wage – Prepare Now to Avoid Future Liability!

April 11 2016

By Jessica Schoendienst

California lawmakers, union supporters, and Governor Brown have come together to increase California minimum wage to $15.00 over the next several years.  Governor Brown signed the law only one week after he announced that legislators and labor leaders negotiated a deal behind the scenes.

The new law requires California employers with more than 25 employees to pay at least $15.00 per hour by 2022.  Employers will 25 or less employees have an additional year to increase their wages to at least $15.00 per hour.  The increase will be phased-in beginning next year when the minimum wage increases to $10.50 per hour.  Click here for a chart of the new minimum wage rates.

After January 1, 2023, the minimum wage will be increased annually from the adjusted U.S. Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W), but no more than 3.5% in a year, with the resulting rate rounded to the nearest $0.10.  CPI-W is generally seen as a cost-of-living index for working individuals and families.

The Governor has the authority to suspend the increases based on economic conditions, such as declining state revenues from sales tax, declines here in labor markets, or budget deficits.  However, the Governor can only suspend the increase twice and the Governor does not have the authority to suspend the minimum wage increase once the minimum wage reaches $15.00 per hour.

The state minimum wage increases affects more than just those paid minimum wage.  Employers should consider these new minimum wage obligations for employees paid commissions and piece-rate compensation, are exempt employees, or those employees that are required to provide and maintain their own tools and equipment.

For example, exempt employees must satisfy both the duties and salary test to be properly classified as an exempt employee.  Generally this means that the employee must earn at least two times the state minimum wage.   Click here for a chart of the new minimum wage rates (minimum exempt salary).

Employers need to ensure they increase the minimum salaries for those whose status is dependent on minimum wage.  Employers who do not increase employee’s wages may risk liability for improperly classifying employees or risk liability for back wages or reimbursements.

Employers will also need to update their written notices provided to minimum wage employees, pursuant to Labor Code § 2810.5, because otherwise the rate of pay and overtime rates listed on the notice will not reflect the new increases.  Employers should also ensure that they display workplace posters that include the new minimum wage rates.