It may come as a surprise to many employers that employees cannot waive, or enter into contracts contrary to many of California’s Labor Code requirements. The rationale for this is pretty basic: if employees could waive the rights given to them under the Labor Code, every employer would simply require the employee to waive the rights on the first day of work, rendering the Labor Code meaningless.

A general rule for Courts is found in Civil Code section 3513, which provides: “Any one may waive the advantage of a law intended solely for his benefit. But a law established for a public reason cannot be contravened by a private agreement.” California courts have found that many of the Labor Code provisions are for the public good, and therefore cannot be waived by an employee.  

Labor Code Provisions An Employee Cannot Waive:

  • Minimum Wage & Overtime

Labor Code Section 1194 provides a private right of action to enforce violations of minimum wage and overtime laws. That statute clearly voids any agreement between an employer and employee to work for less than minimum wage or not to receive overtime:

Notwithstanding any agreement to work for a lesser wage, any employee receiving less than the legal minimum wage or the legal overtime compensation applicable to the employee is entitled to recover in a civil action the unpaid balance of the full amount of this minimum wage or overtime compensation, including interest thereon, reasonable attorney’s fees, and costs of suit.

In Gentry v. Superior Court, the Supreme Court further explained:

[Labor Code] Section 510 provides that nonexempt employees will be paid one and one-half their wages for hours worked in excess of eight per day and 40 per week and twice their wages for work in excess of 12 hours a day or eight hours on the seventh day of work. Section 1194 provides a private right of action to enforce violations of minimum wage and overtime laws.

By its terms, the rights to the legal minimum wage and legal overtime compensation conferred by the statute are unwaivable. “Labor Code section 1194 confirms ‘a clear public policy . . . that is specifically directed at the enforcement of California’s minimum wage and overtime laws for the benefit of workers.’”

  • Expense Reimbursement

Labor Code section 2802 requires employers to reimburse its employees for “necessary expenditures or losses incurred by the employee” while performing his or her job duties. Labor Code section 2804, clearly provides that an employee cannot waive this right to be reimbursed for or liable for the cost of doing business. Section 2804 provides, “Any contract or agreement, express or implied, made by any employee to waive the benefits of this article or any part thereof, is null and void….”

Labor Code Provisions An Employee May Be Able To Waive:

While it is unclear, the following items could possibly be waived by an employee. However, these areas are very unsettled, and employers should approach with caution when seeking waivers from employees on these issues.

  • Meal Breaks

The California Supreme Court is currently reviewing the case Brinker v. Superior Court, that should address, among other issues, the standard regarding how employers need to provide meals breaks. At issue is whether employers need to simply “provide” employees with meal breaks, or on the other hand, “ensure” that employees take meal breaks. If the Supreme Court rules that employers only need to provide meal breaks, then if the employee chooses not to take the meal break, then arguably there would be no violation. The Supreme Court will hopefully issue a ruling on this case in 2010.

  • Waiver To Participate In A Class Action

Given the increase in wage and hour class actions, employers began seeking agreements from their employees that if a dispute would arise about any wage and hour issue, the employee would agree to only seek remedies on an individual basis, not through a class action. The California Supreme Court reviewed the issue if an employee could enter into such an agreement and found that, “at least in some cases, the prohibition of classwide relief would undermine the vindication of the employees’ unwaivable statutory rights and would pose a serious obstacle to the enforcement of the state’s overtime laws.” The Court therefore set out a number of factors that a trial court must look at to determine whether the class action waiver is enforceable or not. As of February 2010, there has not been a class action waiver that has been upheld by an appellate court in California. So while there is the possibility of enforcing such waivers, this possibility is very slight.