What's the Difference Between Exempt and Non-exempt Employees?

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Understanding your classification as an employee is crucial when defining your wage and hour rights in the workplace. If you are misclassified, you may be entitled to different protections and benefits than you currently have. Our Calabasas employment team discusses the wage and hour violations when these designations are incorrect and what it means to be exempt or non-exempt.

Exempt Vs. Non-exempt

California's Labor Code establishes the rules for the proper classification of exempt and non-exempt employees. To understand wage and hour violations, it's key to first understand the difference between exempt and non-exempt employees.


In California, employees paid a salary are often classified as exempt, meaning they are not paid a minimum wage for all hours worked, do not earn overtime pay, and are not guaranteed meal and rest periods. More specifically, California law defines exempt workers as those who:

  1. Hold executive, administrative, and professional positions;
  2. Commonly exercise decision-making and discretion in performing job-related tasks; and,
  3. Earn a monthly salary equalling to or more than two times the state minimum wage for full-time employment.


On the other hand, non-exempt employees do not meet all three of the previously mentioned requirements. These employees:

  • Are entitled to overtime pay
  • Could be paid a salary or hourly wage
  • Could work in any field
  • Must be paid at least minimum wage
  • Are entitled to meals and breaks

If you are unsure whether your classification should be exempt or non-exempt, our team of labor and employment lawyers can help.

Why Does Misclassification Happen?

There are instances where misclassification occurs due to oversight on the employer's part. Unfortunately, many times these errors are intentional. They don't realize that by misclassifying employees, they open themselves up to potential legal problems. Employers may use misclassification as a way to save on labor costs by:

  • Avoiding paying overtime
  • Circumventing state and federal taxes
  • Underpaying employees

What to Do When Improperly Classified

If you are misclassified as exempt, you may be entitled to significant potential damages, including:

  • Unpaid minimum wages
  • Unpaid overtime,
  • Meal and rest periods not provided,
  • Other civil penalties.

It's essential to speak with an experienced attorney when misclassification occurs. An employment attorney will be able to provide you with the best course of action to recuperate your lost wages and other damages.

Has Your Employer misclassified you?

If you have questions about your employee classification or think you may have been the victim of wage theft, we can help. Our experienced California employment lawyers at Gaines & Gaines, APLC can help you understand your rights and options and will fight to get you the compensation you deserve.

To get a free consultation, call today at (866) 400-4450.