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What is a minimum wage?
A minimum wage is the lowest hourly rate that an employee can be legally paid. The rate is set by both state and federal laws. States are free to set a minimum wage that is higher than the minimum wage under federal law, but they cannot set a minimum wage that is less than the federal minimum. Many cities in California - including Los Angeles - also set their own minimum wages. These local minimum wage ordinances must also provide pay that is at least as much as the current state and federal minimum wages.
Minimum wage under federal law
Currently, the federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. This has been the subject of much recent controversy. The rate has not been raised in many years, and critics claim that this wage has not kept pace with the rising cost of living. If the federal minimum wage is raised, states will have to be sure their own rates are at least as high as the new federal minimum.
Minimum wage under California law
Here in California, where the cost of living is relatively high, the state legislature tends to raise the minimum wage more frequently. It is currently set at $14 per hour. (Small businesses with 25 or fewer employees may pay $13 per hour.) This means that any California employer must pay all employees a minimum of $14 (or $13) per hour, even though these wages are higher than the federal minimum wage. Employers must also keep up with the frequent changes to California's minimum wage law. Employers who are not aware of changes to the minimum wage can still be fined for failing to comply with it. They can also be fined for failing to comply with local ordinances that set minimum wages in cities and counties throughout California. As of July 2021, the minimum wage in the City of Los Angeles is $15 per hour.
Who enforces minimum wage laws?
In California, employment matters are overseen by the Department of Industrial Relations. The Labor Commissioner's Office handles wage disputes. Employees can file their own claims with this Office, but they have a better chance of success when they have an attorney on their side. Remember: an employee must fight against the employer, an HR department, and even a legal department or attorney. You do not have to go up against them on your own.