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Wage and hour laws and remote work

Remote and telework transformed work last year beyond expectations and will be a large and permanent part of employment in California. Remote work, however, poses compliance challenges under the state’s strict wage and hour laws.

Keeping track of hours

Employers are having a more difficult time monitoring compliance because nonexempt remote workers are not at a traditional physical workplace and working out of sight. There have been claims of time-keeping violations, working off-the-clock and missed rest and meal breaks.

In California, work hours are defined as the time during which an employee is under the employer’s control even if the employee is not required to work. Employees must be paid for any time spent for their employer’s benefit even if they decided to do that work on their own time. In addition to paying the correct compensation, employers must accurately record start and end times, meal breaks, meetings, and pre-and post-shift work.

Under federal law, employers can require that employees work a small amount of time each day without being paid if it is administratively difficult to track that time. However, the California Supreme Court has ruled that this de minimis rule does not apply to the state’s wage and hour laws.


Employees must receive ample meal and rest breaks even if they are tele-working. But it is difficult to keep track of breaks when workers are not at the worksite and employers may interrupt required breaks.

In California, workers are entitled to a 10-minute paid rest break for every four hours worked or a major part of that time. Employees must also have a 30-minute unpaid meal break for every five hours of work.

Employees may waive their right to a meal break only if they worked no more than six hours. Workers are entitled to a second break after 10 hours which can be waived if they took the first break. Workers must take their meal breaks before the end of the fifth hour of their shift.

Reimbursement for business expenses

California law requires employers to reasonably reimburse employees for all necessary expenditures or losses incurred carrying out their work duties or acting at the employer’s direction.

Employees working from home may have to pay business expenses for internet and phone use. Remote work can also require the purchase of office furniture, supplies and equipment. Reimbursement is likely required if these costs are reasonable.

Attorneys can provide wage and employment advice to deal with the growing trend of telework. Lawyers can also represent parties in state and federal wage proceedings.


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