Work Day, Work Week & Alternate Work Week Laws in California

Instructor: Ian Lord

Ian has an MBA and is a real estate investor, former health professions educator, and Air Force veteran.

The state of California defines a regular work day or work week for the purposes of calculating overtime pay. In this lesson we will review these definitions as well the allowances for an alternate work week schedule.

California Work Day and Work Week Laws

As a cashier in a busy retail store in California, Jane wants to be fully aware of when she is entitled to overtime pay. California establishes standards for what is considered a regular work day and work week. Let's help Jane review the basics of California's maximum working times before overtime pay kicks in.

Work Day

In California every job has an applicable Industrial Welfare Commission Wage Order that determines the length of a normal work day or work week. There are 17 orders; 16 apply to specific industries such as manufacturing, transportation, and agriculture. The last covers any occupations not covered by another order.

Most employees have a legal maximum work day limit of eight hours. The work day is any 24-hour period that begins at the same time each day. This covers situations where a shift may begin before midnight and end after midnight. The intent is that an employee normally doesn't work more than eight hours out of any given 24-hour period. For example, an employee's work day could be considered to begin at 9 PM if he regularly starts work at 9 PM, works until 5 AM, and doesn't report back to work until 9 PM the next calendar day. Under California law Jane would be entitled for overtime pay for the hours she works in excess of that limit. However, if an alternative work week schedule is used in the workplace an employee falls under different rules for overtime.

Work Week

Under the Industrial Welfare Commission Orders a work week is defined as as a consecutive seven-day period that begins on the same day each week. Generally a work week is not to exceed 40 hours. If Jane were to work beyond 40 hours in a week, she would be entitled to overtime pay for the extra hours.

Alternate Work Week

A wide number of employers and employees have agreed to alternate work week arrangements that deviate from the typical eight-hour day. If two thirds of the employees in a work unit agree by secret ballot to an employer's offer of an alternate work week, the team may wind up working more than eight hours in a day without overtime pay. A single employee can qualify as a work unit. The intent of the work unit agreement is that the business can properly function with the alternate work schedule; that might not be possible if employees on the same work team are on different schedules.

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