Working in San Francisco? Know your rights

By Ann Marie Galvan


From Twitter to Salesforce to Meta, the mass layoffs of tech workers in San Francisco are a reminder that it’s more important than ever to know your rights as a worker. San Francisco has many unique labor laws and the more you know, the better.


Illustration by Cindy Chan/The Guardsman

Wage requirements

  • The minimum wage for San Francisco workers is $16.99 per hour. Regardless of citizenship status, workers in San Francisco should not be making less than this amount per hour. This applies to “tipped” and “non-tipped” workers.
  • The minimum wage for California is $15 per hour for employers with more than 25 employees and $14 for employers with less than 25 employees. In 2023, this will rise to $15.50/hour for all employers.
  • The minimum wage for the United States is $7.25 per hour. The federal minimum wage last went up in 2009.


Breaks — the bare minimum

  • Paid 10 minute breaks every four hours: Every worker in San Francisco has the right to a paid 10 minute break every four hours. Employers should not ask you to clock out during breaks. Workers have a right to breaks regardless of how busy the workplace is. It is the responsibility of employers to cover breaks if there are issues with staffing.
  • An unpaid lunch break of at least 30 minutes: Since these are unpaid, often employers will have employees clock out. The length of the lunch break varies by employer, but the minimum is 30 minutes.


Overtime: how it works

  • Overtime pay is 1.5 times your regular wage: A regular work day is eight hours. Every hour worked in excess of eight is considered overtime. Say you’re getting paid the San Francisco minimum wage of $16.99 per hour and you stay more than eight hours at your job. Your overtime pay would be 1.5 x $16.99 = $25.48 per hour for every hour you stayed overtime.
  • If you work more than 12 hours, you are entitled to double time pay. Like with regular overtime, this is calculated by taking your regular wage but multiplying it by two, instead of 1.5. So, for example, 2 x $16.99 = $33.98 an hour, if you work 12 hours or more.


Tips: they’re yours to keep

    • Employers may not withhold tips, unless it’s for a tip pool.
    • Employers cannot take tips that were meant for employees or take portions of tips.
    • Employers cannot deduct credit card processing fees from tips. Employees are entitled to the full tip amount.
    • Employers can make workers share tips. This is called tip pooling. For example, in a restaurant an employer may create a tip pool so servers share tips with back of house staff such as dishwashers, bussers, and cooks so all staff get an equitable share. Even if servers do not want to share tips it is legal for employers to implement a “fair and reasonable” tip pool policy and obligate participation from all staff, as long as all tips are shared among the workers and the employer takes nothing.
    • Tips are not considered part of “regular pay” for overtime/double time calculations. Employers also cannot pay workers less than minimum wage and calculate tips into hourly pay.
  • Employers cannot deduct tips from a worker’s paycheck.


If you work in San Francisco you get paid sick leave  —  take care of yourself!

    • Employers with 10 or more employees must let employees accrue up to 72 hours of paid sick leave.
  • Sick leave works differently for employers with less than 10 employees. Either these employers must let employees accrue up to 48 hours of paid sick leave, or they must provide an “up-front” advance of 24 hours or 3 days of paid sick leave, and later let employees accrue up to 40 hours of paid sick leave.
  • Paid sick leave carries over from year to year and must be clearly marked on each paycheck.
  • Employees can start using sick leave on the ninetieth day of employment. 
  • Employees can use sick leave for “existing health conditions or preventative care” or for “specified purposes for an employee who is a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking.”
  • Paid sick leave can also be used to care for a family member.


San Francisco’s new Public Health Emergency Leave Ordinance (PHELO)

    • Starting in 2023, employers with 100 employees or more must provide up to 80 hours of paid leave during a public health emergency.
    • This paid leave is in addition to any other paid time off, including sick leave.
  • Air quality emergencies also count, if the person is a member of a “vulnerable population” and works outdoors.
    • This emergency leave can be used to isolate or quarantine, or if a worker is contagious or has symptoms of the disease associated with the public health emergency.
  • Employers cannot retaliate against employees who use this leave.


Some new employment laws in California: looking ahead


In danger? Leave


SB 1044 says that employees can leave or refuse to work during “emergency conditions.” Disaster or “extreme peril” to worker safety caused by natural forces or “criminal acts” constitute an emergency, and employers cannot retaliate against a worker who refuses to work or leaves during emergency conditions. “Health pandemics” are explicitly excluded from this act, and it does not apply to first responders.


You can’t get fired for off-the-job marijuana use


Effective January 1, 2024, AB 2188 prohibits “adverse action” against an employee if they use cannabis while not working and away from the workplace. This also includes if a pre-employment drug test finds evidence of “non-psychoactive cannabis metabolites” in a prospective employee’s results. This law does not cover employees in the building and construction industry. It also does not exempt applicants that need a “federal background investigation or clearance.”


Joining — or creating — a union is your right


SB 931 prohibits a public employer (i.e. a city or federal employer) from deterring or discouraging employees from becoming or remaining union members. The National Labor Relations Act is made to protect private workers, and with rampant anti-union attacks from giant corporations such as Starbucks and Amazon, it’s important to know that unionizing is legally protected.


For members of the public: if you have a medical condition, you’re legally entitled to the bathroom


AB 1632 is for members of the public. Businesses who are open to the public that have employee bathrooms must allow individuals with “Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, or any other similar medical condition” to use the employee’s bathroom.


Rights for fast-food employees


Passed just this year, AB 257 is called the Fast Food Accountability and Standards Recovery Act (or FAST Recovery Act) and it sets standards and regulations for fast food workers. A fast food restaurant is defined as a chain with 100 or more stores nationwide. Among its provisions is a $22 per hour minimum wage for fast food workers.


City College resources:

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