Exempt vs. Non-Exempt in California: What’s the difference?


There are two types of employees – exempt and non-exempt. California labor law requires employers do things such as pay overtime, track hours, and provide rest breaks. However, some jobs are exempt from these requirements. An exempt employee is an employee whose job is not subject to certain laws.  

What is an Exempt Employee?

The employee will usually be classified as exempt from overtime, minimum wage, and rest break requirements if all three of the following requirements are met:

Independent Judgment

The employee’s job duties must involve the use of discretion and independent judgment.  

“White Collar” Duties

The employee’s primary duties must consist of administrative, executive, or professional tasks.  

Minimum Salary

The employee must be paid a salary that is at least twice the state minimum wage for full-time employment.  

However, applying this test is not always easy, as there are many nuances. Exemption status is not based on job title alone, so a job title with “administrative” or “executive” or “professional” does not automatically mean the employee is exempt. Further, just because an employee is paid a regular salary does not automatically make them exempt. Always consult with a San Diego lawyer when determining the classification of your employees.  

What is a Non-Exempt Employee?

If your employee does not meet the requirements for exemption, then they are a non-exempt employee. As a non-exempt employee, workers are protected by federal and California labor laws. This includes minimum wage laws, required rest periods, meal breaks, and overtime pay.

It is important to make sure you are classifying your employees correctly. Some employers intentionally misclassify employees as “exempt” in violation of both California labor law and the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Employers who do so will face high-cost financial penalties. Misclassified employees may even seek unpaid wages for employer’s labor law violations.  

Contact us to discuss any questions regarding California exemption laws and misclassification.

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