Federal and state laws exempt certain employees from wage and hour requirements, especially overtime pay and meal and rest break requirements. If you have a problem distinguishing between exempt and nonexempt employees in your company, you are not alone. Some of the largest multimillion-dollar awards of back pay by the courts stem from employers' misclassification of nonexempt employees as exempt from overtime.
The subject is particularly thorny for California employers, because the state's exemption requirements create more restrictions than federal law. As defined in the Industrial Welfare Commission (IWC) Wage Orders, California's requirements exceed even the federal standards adopted by the US Department of Labor in 2004, making those federal standards generally irrelevant to California employees.