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Can a California employer legally pay less than minimum wage?

After being hired by a California employer, they inform you that you will not be paid the state's minimum wage of $11.00 per hour for the first few weeks of your employment while you undergo training and on-boarding. Your first response may be dismay, and your second response may be to instinctively say that it is illegal. But is it actually illegal? Are there ever any circumstances where an employer may pay you less than minimum wage and still be compliant with state and federal labor law?

There are actually multiple instances where you may earn less than minimum wage, per the California Department of Industrial Relations - and believe it or not, it is not applicable to restaurant servers who earn tips, as many assume. For employees classified as "learners," those who have no prior experience in the role they were hired into, it is legal to pay 85 percent of minimum wage for the first 160 hours worked as part of the training period.

Other situations in which minimum wage laws may not apply can include employers who are non-profits, employees who are mentally or physically disabled or employees who are the spouse, parent or child of the employer. Outside salespersons may also be exempt from minimum wage law due to commissions. However, if you feel your employer is unfairly paying you less than the minimum wage, you are able to file a claim with the state.

Please use this blog post only as an informational reference, rather than as actionable legal advice.

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