Is there a legal minimum of hours per week in order to qualify as full-time in California?

October 23, 2023
Is there a legal minimum of hours per week in order to qualify as full-time in California?

Is there a legal minimum of hours per week in order to qualify as full time in California?

What is Full-Time in California?

According to the California Department of Industrial Relations, a full-time employee works 40 hours per week.

However, you won’t want to confuse the 40-hour work week with the Affordable Care Act regulations, which identify full-time workers as those who work 30 hours per week. Under the ACA, large employers (those with 50 or more full-time-equivalent employees) are required to offer health insurance coverage to their full-time employees (those working an average of 30 hours or more per week). If these employers do not provide affordable health insurance that provides a minimum level of coverage to their full-time employees, they might be subject to penalties.

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How Many Hours is Full-Time in Other States?

To learn how many hours a week is full time or find other information on your state labor laws, refer to the interactive state-by-state map of over 200 Labor Wage and Hour local offices provided by the U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division.

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Exempt vs. Non-Exempt in Your State

The classification between exempt and non-exempt employees largely pertains to wage and hour laws. In most states, including California, the distinction is crucial because it determines which employees are entitled to overtime pay, minimum wage, and other employment rights. If employees are non-exempt and qualify as full-time employees under California law, they're entitled to certain benefits and protections.

Here's a breakdown of the differences between exempt and non-exempt employees:

Non-exempt employees

  • Overtime. These employees are entitled to overtime pay. The federal standard under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires 1.5 times their regular rate of pay for all hours worked over 40 in a week. Some states, like California, have stricter requirements, like paying overtime for anything over 8 hours worked in a single day.
  • Minimum wage. Non-exempt employees must be paid at least the federal, state, or local minimum wage, whichever is highest. In California, state minimum wage is currently $15.50/hour for all employers. The minimum wage will increase to $16 on January 1, 2024.
  • Breaks. Depending on state laws, they might be entitled to meal and rest breaks. For example, the California labor code entitles non-exempt workers to a 10-minute rest break for every 4 hours worked. They also receive a 30-minute meal break if they work more than 5 hours in a day.
  • Record-keeping. Employers are usually required to keep detailed payroll records of non-exempt employees' hours worked. This helps ensure compliance with wage and hour laws.

Exempt employees

  • Overtime. These employees are "exempt" from overtime pay requirements. This means they aren't eligible for additional pay, regardless of how many hours they work in a week.
  • Minimum wage. Exempt employees aren't subject to minimum wage laws. Instead, they often receive a salary, which might be above a certain threshold.
  • Duties test. To qualify as exempt, employees typically need to meet certain criteria for job duties, not just salary criteria. The FLSA identifies primary exempt categories, including executive, professional, computer, outside sales, and administrative employees. Each category has specific requirements regarding the nature of the job tasks performed.
  • Breaks. Exempt employees might not have guaranteed rights to meal or rest breaks, but this will vary depending on state laws.
  • Salary basis. One of the markers of many exempt positions is that the employee is paid on a "salary basis," which means they receive a guaranteed amount of money regardless of the number of hours they work in a week.

It's critical for employers to properly classify their employees as exempt or non-exempt based on both salary and duties tests. Mistakes can lead to legal consequences, a tax penalty, or both. State-specific laws can add layers of complexity, so employers need to be aware of both federal and state regulations when determining an employee's status.

The Intersection of Hours and Exemption Status

It's possible to have a part-time, exempt employee, as long as they meet the criteria for an exempt status (like salary threshold and duties test). However, in practice, many exempt roles are full-time because of the nature and demands of the job.

Non-exempt employees, whether full-time or part-time, are subject to overtime rules. So, a full-time non-exempt employee who works over 40 hours in a week (or more than 8 hours in a day in certain states) would be eligible for overtime.

Non-Exemption in California

California law presumes all employees are non-exempt unless proven otherwise. What exactly does that mean?

Well, it places the responsibility on the employer to demonstrate that an employee fits within one of the exempt categories. This is an essential protection because it ensures that employers don't (accidentally or intentionally) deprive employees of the rights and protections that come with non-exempt status, like overtime pay. If an employer incorrectly classifies a worker as exempt, there could be legal consequences, including back pay for overtime.

Full-Time, Exempt Employees in California

If you're employing full-time, exempt California employees, you might consider offering certain perks like vacation pay, additional health benefits, and paid sick leave to eligible employees. Since exempt employees with full-time status might be working more than eight hours without the benefit of being paid overtime, perks like this can help with employee satisfaction, retention, and attracting the right candidates during the hiring process.

The California Employment Development Department is another important resource regarding other state-specific benefits like unemployment insurance and compensation, state disability insurance, and paid family leave.

The History of the Full-time Work Week

The history of the standard 40-hour week—for those who work full time in California and every state—started with one of the most influential companies in American history.

On May 1, 1926, Ford Motor Company became one of the first companies in America to adopt a five-day, 40-hour week for workers in its automotive factories. The policy would be extended to Ford’s office workers later that year.

This set the precedent both for blue-collar and white-collar workers. In 1938, Congress enacted the Fair Labor Standards Act, which required employers to pay overtime to all employees who worked more than 44 hours a week. They amended the act two years later to reduce the work week, and the 40-hour work week for full-time employment became U.S. law.

Your Go-to Resource for Employment Questions

Now that you know how many hours is full-time in California, you may have some other HR questions. For answers, check out all of TriNet's helpful guides, expertise, and resources, and consider using TriNet as your expert PEO. To find out if TriNet's full-service HR solutions are right for you, take our free assessment.

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