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What Employees Should Know About California's 17 Wage Orders

When the company violates a Wage Order, you may be owed money wages

How to recover money from California Wage Order violations


Overview of California Wage Law - an insider's view

California has perhaps the strongest worker protection wage theft laws in not only the United States, but in the world. California workers are fortunate to have such strong laws that protect them, their wages, and their working conditions.

Since I have been involved  in not only creating new case law in California, but also the legislative process and the drafting of California wage theft law, I bring an insider view of California wage theft law.

Bill Turley is regularly asked to testify before the California State Senate and California Assembly on wage legislation - he has a unique insider's view on California wage law

Bill Turley Testifying at the California Senate regarding wage laws.


California's wage and hour laws

California has two main sources of laws that govern the wages, hours and working conditions of California workers.  The first is the California Labor Code. The second are what are referred to as "California Wage Orders." In California, the Industrial Welfare Commission (IWC) is responsible for setting overtime wages, hours and working conditions for workers. Labor Code Sections 1173, 1182, 1182.11, 1182,12, 1182.13.

California has 18 Wage Orders. 16 of the California Wage Orders relate to specific industries and occupations. There is one general minimum wage order that applies to all California employers and employees (excluding public employees and outside salespersons). And there is one order implementing the Eight-Hour-Day Restoration and Workplace Flexibility Act of 1999. Since 17 of the wage orders relate to industries and occupations, some folks refer say there are 17 wage orders. 

California’s labor laws are among the strongest (read: best for workers) in the nation. 

Determining the wage order for your industry/ occupation

The first thing you need to do is to determine the proper wage order for your industry or occupation. The Wage Orders differ according to the industry/ occupation.  At the bottom of this webpage, I list the various descriptions of the California Wage Orders.  For many, if not most, workers it is fairly easy to determine which Wage Order applies to their industry or occupation. However, sometimes, it isn't quite so simple.  

California workers - getting your Class Action check for unpaid wages

California Wage Orders - Protecting California workers


It’s in the Wage Orders

I had a professor in law school that used to say, “Let’s get wild and crazy and look it up.”  I loved the expression then and I love it now. It basically means, to me at least - don’t guess, simply look it up and get the correct answer.
Here, the answer, my friend, isn’t blowing in the wind. Instead, the answers in California's Wage Orders.
With California's Wage Orders there are two separate things that need to be looked up. First, which Wage Order applies to you? Specifically, which Wage Order applies to the industry that you work in? 
Second, once you determine the correct Wage Order for you and the industry that you work in, what are the wage laws that apply to your industry? 
Without getting bogged down in the weeds, you need to realize that there are differences between what California Wage Orders require in different industries. In other words, not all of the Wage Orders are alike. 
For example, while most Wage Orders require employers to provide rest breaks. There are some very real differences between what is required for rest breaks in the construction industry (Wage Order 16), the agricultural industry (Wage Order 14) and the manufacturing industry (Wage Order 1).  And, the California Wage Order for Miscellaneous Employees, Wage Order 17 - has no provision for rest breaks. 
What I'm suggesting is that you need to look at what your particular Wage Order requires of your employer in order to determine if your employer is violating your California wage rights and/or violating your California working condition rights. 

The California Wage Orders are to be liberally construed for the protection of workers

California's wage orders are part of the remedial worker protection framework.  

Time and again, the California Supreme Court has characterized that purpose as Labor Code and the IWC wage orders that cover employees is the protection of employees. Particularly given the extent of legislative concern about working conditions, wages, and hours when the Legislature enacted key portions of the Labor Code.

The California Supreme Court held this in the ground breaking California Supreme Court Brinker case. that provided meal period and rest period rights to California workers. Bill Turley represented the worker in the historic Brinker case. 

We saw this in the recent Augustus case, where the Supreme Court - in effect - said, “All those rights that we said applied to meal breaks and implied applied to rest breaks for California workers, well we meant every word of it and yes, they also apply to rest breaks.” At least that is my take on the Augustus Supreme Court decision. And it is exactly what Bill wrote in the winning Supreme Court brief in the Augustus case.

The whole purpose of the California Labor Code and California Wage Orders are remedial in nature. Meaning, they are to give rights to workers that California employers have historically abused.

In furtherance of that purpose, the California Supreme Court liberally construes the Labor Code and wage orders to favor the protection of employees. This is Brinker 101, so to speak.


The Wage Orders not only protect workers - but the Wage Orders also benefit law-abiding businesses "to create a level playing field among competing businesses in the same industry in order to prevent a race to the bottom..."  

“...California's industry-wide wage orders are also clearly intended for the benefit of those law-abiding businesses that comply with the obligations imposed by the wage orders, ensuring that such responsible companies are not hurt by unfair competition from competitor businesses that utilize substandard employment practices.” Dynamex Operations West, Inc. v. Superior Court, 4 Cal. 5th 903, 952 (2018).
The California Supreme Court in Dynamex went on to state:
“The additional purpose of wage orders to protect companies that in good faith comply with a wage order's obligations against those competitors in the same industry or line of business that resort to cost saving worker classifications that fail to provide the required minimum protections to similarly situated workers. A wage order's industry-wide minimum requirements are intended to create a level playing field among competing businesses in the same industry in order to prevent the type of “race to the bottom” that occurs when businesses implement new structures or policies that result in substandard wages and unhealthy conditions for workers. Dynamex Operations West, Inc. v. Superior Court, 4 Cal. 5th 903, 960 (2018).

The Wage Orders also protect the public

“...the minimum employment standards imposed by wage orders are also for the benefit of the public at large, because if the wage orders' obligations are not fulfilled the public will often be left to assume responsibility for the ill effects to workers and their families resulting from substandard wages or unhealthy and unsafe working conditions.” Dynamex Operations West, Inc. v. Superior Court, 4 Cal. 5th 903, 952 (2018).

Which of California’s 17 Wage Orders Apply to Me?

California’s 17 separate wage orders were created by the Industrial Welfare Commission (IWC), and are overseen by California’s Department of Industrial Relations (DIR). These orders are numbered 1 through 17, and each one is available to the public and dated with the year in which it was last amended.

State wage orders regulate many different factors, most notably the wage levels, hours, overtime calculations, and working conditions for each industry (for example, delivery truck drivers are guaranteed proper meal and rest breaks under Wage Order #9.). Employers are required to comply with both the general California labor laws and any wage orders that apply to their business. If an employer fails to comply with all provisions of state employment laws, they may face penalties through the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE).

The "other" California Wage Order is the "minimum wage" Order that applies to every industry/ occupation. 

The 17 California Wage Orders include provisions for:

  1. Manufacturing Industry
  2. Personal Services Industry
  3. Canning, Freezing, and Preserving Industry
  4. Professional, Technical, Clerical, Mechanical and Similar Occupations
  5. Public Housekeeping Industry
  6. Laundry, Linen Supply, Dry Cleaning and Dyeing Industry
  7. Mercantile Industry
  8. Industries Handling Products After Harvest
  9. Transportation Industry
  10.  Amusement and Recreation Industry
  11.  Broadcasting Industry
  12.  Motion Picture Industry
  13.  Industries Preparing Agricultural Products for Market, on the Farm
  14.  Agricultural Occupations
  15.  Household Occupation
  16.  Certain On-Site Occupations in the Construction, Drilling, Logging and Mining Industries
  17.  Miscellaneous Employees (workers who are not covered by another industry or occupation order)

    And  - the California minimum wage - wage order. 

Here is the link to the State of California site that lists the Wage Orders.

It is important to note that there are some exceptions to industry wage orders. Some employees may be exempt from earning overtime in certain situations, such as technical workers (covered under Wage Order 4) whose total pay is at least 50 percent in the form of commissions and who earn at least one and one-half times the minimum wage.


What should I do if I can't figure out the California Wage Order that applies to me? 

Great question.

I will tell you exactly where I go, when it's not so apparent which Wage Order may apply.  The State of California has a good webpage called "Which Wage Order?"  You go to the "Which Wage Order?" page and search for warehouse and you will see that Wage Order 9 applies to your industry. 

If you work in a restaurant as a cook. You go to the "Which Wage Order?" page and search for restaurant and you will see that Wage Order 5 applies to your industry.  

But you can't just go to the first wage order that describes your job. For example, if you search for "cook" you may really be thrown off track.

If you can't figure it out, you can call my office and we can help. 



To learn more about your rights in a wage and hour case, read through our free book, California Truck & Delivery Driver Wage Theft: The Ultimate Straight Talk Guide to Getting Your Hard Earned Wages Back.

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An important example of the powerfulness of California Wage Orders

California workers rights to rest breaks, actually come from the Wage Orders.  Most Wage Orders have a Section 12, that lays out workers rights to rest breaks in that industry. The Wage Orders obligate employers to permit  and authorize employees to take off‑duty rest periods. That is, during rest periods employers must relieve employees of all duties and relinquish control over how employees spend their time. This is from the powerful Augustus vs. ABM California Supreme Court case.  Which is exactly what I urged the Court to follow in the California Supreme Court brief that I wrote in Augustus. 

Another great example of California Wage Orders helping California workers 

In the Dynamex case (2018) California Supreme Court established the ABC test in order to determine whether workers are employees or independent contractor under California Wage Orders, making it much easier for workers to prove they are employees and entitled to employee protections under the Wage Orders.
In Dynamex, the employer classified its delivery drivers as independent contractors rather than employees. The drivers claimed that Dynamex's alleged misclassification of its drivers as independent contractors led to Dynamex's violation of the provisions of Industrial Welfare Commission wage order No. 9, the applicable state wage order governing the transportation industry.  Dynamex Operations W. v. Superior Court (2018) 4 Cal.5th 903, 914.
The California Supreme Court held that in determining whether to classify workers as employees or as independent contractors for purposes of California's wage, the "suffer or permit to work" standard set forth in the wage orders require a hiring entity asserting independent contractor status to establish each of the three factors of the ABC test.
Dynamex Operations W. v. Superior Court (2018) 4 Cal.5th 903, 958-964.
The Dynamex case concerns every employee in California that is being misclassified as an independent contractor. If is a powerful case based upon California's Wage Orders. 



Clients that are happy they got their settlement check in a California Wage Case


Bill is always going to be straight-up. He is going to tell you what you need to hear, not what you may want to hear.

This is why Bill is continually asked to go to Sacramento in order to work on wage issues with the California State Assembly, California State Senate, the State of California Labor Commissioner’s Office, California Secretary of State’s Office, and the California Attorney General’s office. Bill doesn't work for the California Legislature or these California agencies. But the fact that they regularly consult with Bill on California wage law speaks volumes to his expertise. 

He’s well known for telling it like it is. They know he’ll tell the truth in his no B.S., tell it like it is style. 

Words of Caution


Bill candidly points out that there are no guarantees that any lawsuit, wage class action case, and/or PAGA case will be successful and/or whether anyone will recover money, wages and/or penalties. There are any number of reasons why these cases are defeated, aren’t certified and/or are unsuccessful. Every case is different. Every situation is different. Every case has different facts, evidence and defenses.



Need help right now?

Call us at 619-304-1000  - If you call after regular business hours, when you leave a message, be sure to repeat your name and telephone number twice, so we get it correctly. And be sure to indicate whether it's okay if we respond by text.
Text us at 858-281-8008 - Be sure and put "new wage case" in your text.
Or leave us a message on this webpage.

This article isn't legal advice
These discussions and/or examples are not legal advice. All legal situations are different. These testimonials, endorsements, photos and/or discussions do not constitute a guarantee, warranty, or prediction regarding the outcome of your legal matter, or your particular case/ situation. Every case is different. There are any number of reasons why class actions are not certified, not won and/or PAGA actions are not successful.
Just because we have gotten great results in so many other unpaid wage cases, doesn't guarantee in particular result in other cases. Including, your wage case. Every case is different.



William Turley
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“When I seek out professional advice, I don’t want B.S., I want it straight up. I figure you do also.”