What Happens When State and Federal Labor Laws Differ?

lawyers discussing a caseDue to the Supremacy Clause in Article VI of the Constitution, federal law can supersede state laws. However, the tenth amendment of the Constitution also gives some power back to the states to govern themselves. This means that there is often a balancing act between how state and federal laws interact with each other. When it comes to labor laws, states often have more authority to expand the rights of employers or employees.

In California, there are several labor laws that expand on the rights of employees already set forth by federal law. This then raises an important question about which law shall be enforced if there is an employment dispute.

Below, our Sacramento wage and hour lawyers discuss the differing laws and when each can be enforced.

Federal Labor Standards vs California Labor Code

There are several differences between the Federal Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and the California Labor Code. These differences include the following:

  • Minimum wage – The federal minimum wage has been set at $7.25 since 2009, while California’s minimum wage law will increase to $15.50 per hour in January 2023.
  • Employee harassment – In California, employers can be liable for the harassing actions of an employee, whereas at the federal level there is no strict outline if no action was taken against the employee (firing, demotion or other discipline).
  • Employment discrimination – At the federal level, employers cannot discriminate against a person based on his or her race, religion, sex, age, disability or sexual orientation. California expands the prohibition of discrimination to gender identity, marital status, political association and HIV status.
  • Exemptions for overtime – Under federal law, an employee can be considered exempt from overtime pay by evaluating his or her primary job role and title, whereas California requires that exempt employees must be involved in exempt duties for half the working day.
  • Payment of overtime – If an employee works more than 40 hours in a single workweek, he or she is eligible for overtime pay under federal law. The California Code specifies that employees are entitled to overtime wages when working more than eight hours in one day or any hours worked on the seventh consecutive shift.
  • Sick leave – There is no federal law requiring employers to provide paid sick leave, but there is a provision under the California Labor Code.

Employees in California are also entitled to all wages owed upon the termination of employment. This includes voluntary and involuntary termination.

The labor code also strictly regulates any paycheck deductions for employees, whereas there are no restrictive measures at the federal level.

Is State or Federal Law Acknowledged if an Employment Dispute Arises?

If there is an employment dispute, federal law may supersede state law, as every state is legally obligated to follow federal law. However, the FLSA only provides a minimum threshold for employee rights. Most states, including California, have expanded on the minimum requirements.

This includes expanding the laws regarding minimum wage, overtime pay and paid leave. When it comes to disputes over these issues, state law may supersede federal law because it provides more protection to the employee.

So long as a state law meets the federal minimum, it may trump the federal law. For example, an employer cannot legally pay an employee less than the state minimum wage. Employers also may not classify an employee as exempt from overtime pay if his or her job duties do not meet the state requirements.

However, there have been cases when federal law has trumped state labor laws, despite the laws providing additional protections for employees. Examples include federal laws stating that paid time off in lieu of overtime wages is illegal. The California code allows for this, but because federal law does not, California must adhere to federal regulations.

If you are having an employment dispute and are unsure which law may apply, it may be in your best interest to speak to an attorney who may be able to determine the laws that fit your claim.

Are Employment Disputes Handled by a State or Federal Agency?

Employment disputes may be handled by either a state or federal agency. If the dispute could potentially involve both a federal and state party, then you must file a claim with the appropriate state agency. If a state agency does not exist to handle such a claim, then you may be able to proceed by filing a claim with the appropriate federal agency.

Every state has its own name for its employment or labor agency or department. In California, the department is called the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH).

Contact an Attorney Today

The laws regarding the workplace can be complex, especially when there are conflicting federal and state labor codes. That is why you should strongly consider working with one of our knowledgeable attorneys.

Our lawyers have decades of experience helping employees who have been wronged by their employers recover the compensation they need.

We offer a free consultation to discuss your legal options. There are no hourly fees while we work on your case.

Call 916-777-7777 to get started.