exempt vs non exempt

In California, the difference between exempt and non-exempt employees hinges on eligibility for overtime pay, minimum wage, rest and meal breaks, and other key employment rights.


State employment laws are the ones that determine a staff member’s exempt status. This means that whether an employee is classified as exempt or non-exempt is defined by California laws based on job duties, salary level, and how they are paid, rather than employer discretion and independent judgment.



Difference Between Exempt and Non-Exempt Employees in California

What is exempt vs non-exempt?

Exempt employees are those who are excluded from certain wage and hour regulations, such as overtime pay and meal breaks. They are typically considered to be “salaried” employees, meaning they receive a predetermined amount of pay, regardless of the hours worked.


Non-exempt employees, on the other hand, are entitled to these protections under California wage and hour laws. They must be paid at least minimum wage for all hours worked and receive overtime pay for any time worked beyond 40 hours in a workweek. Non-exempt employees are also legally entitled to rest and meal breaks based on how long their shifts run.


Here’s a breakdown for easy reading:

  • Exempt employees are not entitled to overtime pay or meal breaks. 
  • Non-exempt employees must be paid at least minimum wage and receive overtime pay for any hours worked over 40 in a week. 
  • Both exempt and non-exempt employees are entitled to rest and meal breaks based on their shift length.

It’s important to note that just because an employee is classified as exempt or non-exempt, it does not necessarily reflect their job title or duties.


California employers must carefully review these criteria before classifying an employee as exempt or non-exempt, as misclassification can result in legal consequences under federal law.

Exempt vs Non-Exempt Workers: Classification Exemption Examples

exempt vs non exempt workers

To better understand the different exemption classifications in California labor law, here are some examples:

Examples of Exempt Employees

  • Managers: Employees in supervisory roles who have the authority to hire, fire, and make important decisions for the company are often classified as exempt.
  • Executives: High-level employees who oversee the management of the organization and are involved in strategic planning.
  • Professionals: Individuals with specialized knowledge or advanced degrees in fields such as law, medicine, or accounting may be classified as exempt.
  • Administrators: Employees responsible for the day-to-day operations of a business or department, such as HR managers or financial controllers.
  • Computer Employees: Workers involved in computer systems analysis, programming, or software engineering could be considered exempt.
  • Outside Salespeople: Employees whose primary duty is making sales or obtaining orders outside of the office may be exempt from certain labor protections.
  • Creative Professionals: Artists, writers, or musicians who produce original work may fall under the exempt category.
  • Commissioned Employees: Salespeople who earn most of their income through commissions rather than a fixed salary.
  • Licensed Professionals: Individuals holding specific licenses or certifications, such as doctors, lawyers, or architects, may be exempt from certain labor laws.
  • Highly Compensated Employees: Individuals who earn above a certain threshold set by law may be classified as exempt, regardless of their job duties.

Examples of Non-Exempt Employees

  • Administrative Employees: Individuals performing office or non-manual work directly related to management policies or general business operations.
  • Customer Service Representatives: Employees who provide support or assistance to customers, typically through phone, email, or chat.
  • Retail Workers: Employees working in stores or shops to sell products directly to customers.
  • Food Service Workers: Individuals working in restaurants, cafes, or other food establishments, such as servers, cooks, or bartenders.
  • Healthcare Staff: Nurses, medical assistants, or other healthcare professionals providing direct patient care in hospitals or clinics.
  • Manufacturing Workers: Employees involved in the production of goods in factories or industrial settings.
  • Administrative Assistants: Support staff responsible for clerical or administrative tasks to assist other employees or departments.
  • Construction Workers: Individuals involved in building, repairing, or renovating structures, such as carpenters, electricians, or plumbers.
  • Drivers: Individuals operating vehicles for transportation purposes, including delivery drivers, truck drivers, or taxi drivers.
  • Janitorial Staff: Cleaners or custodians responsible for maintaining cleanliness in various settings, such as offices, schools, or public spaces.

My Employer Misclassified My Job Status:
What To Do Next

Misclassification can affect your wages, overtime eligibility, and other employment benefits. Here’s what you can do next:

  1. Collect Evidence: Secure documents like job descriptions, pay stubs, and any communication regarding your job status.
  2. Understand the Law: Review California’s criteria for exempt and non-exempt employees to understand the basis of your misclassification.
  3. Discuss with Your Employer: Often, a straightforward conversation can resolve the issue. Present your evidence and explain your position.
  4. Record Conversations: Note details of your discussions about job classification with your employer.
  5. File a Complaint: If unresolved, you can file a complaint with the California Labor Commissioner’s Office for an official review.
  6. Consult an Attorney: An employment law attorney can offer personalized advice, clarify your rights, and guide you through correcting your job status, including filing any necessary claims for unpaid wages or benefits.

Taking action to correct a job misclassification is crucial for ensuring you receive fair compensation and benefits. For detailed guidance on exempt vs non-exempt and to safeguard your rights throughout this process, speak with an experienced employment lawyer in California.

Misclassified as Exempt or Non-exempt? Talk to an Experienced California Employment Lawyer Today.
Free Consultation.

If you believe that you have been misclassified in your job, it is important to take action and seek the help of an experienced employment lawyer in California.


Whether you have been labeled as exempt when you should be non-exempt, or vice versa, a skilled attorney can assist you in correcting this issue and ensuring that you receive fair compensation for your work.


RTM Law Firm has helped countless employees throughout California with their misclassification cases. Our team of experienced lawyers has a thorough understanding of state and federal labor laws, as well as the various exemptions that can apply to different job classifications.


Call our employment attorney today for a free consultation.