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Employment Wages and Hours Violations in California

Updated: Apr 26

Find employment attorneys for unpaid wages and work hours violations in California.

Employees have a right to be adequately compensated for their efforts. When it comes to wages and working hours, California and federal regulations offer different benefits for workers. Unfortunately, many employers break these rules, often out of ignorance but more often out of greed. Companies all too frequently tend to take advantage of their workers and cut corners in order to save money.

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Who is in charge of enforcing the law?

The Wage & Hour Division of the United States Department of Labor is in charge of enforcing the FLSA. Investigators deployed across the United States perform inquiries and collect data on salaries, hours, and other working conditions or activities in order to decide if an employer has complied with the law. They can also prescribe improvements in employment policies to bring an employer into line if violations are discovered.

Under the FLSA, it is unconstitutional to fire or discriminates against an employee for filing a complaint or engaging in legal action.

Willful breaches can result in criminal charges and a fine for the offender. A second conviction may result in incarceration. Employers who breach the minimum wage provisions intentionally or regularly face a civil money penalty for each violation.

The FLSA makes it illegal to ship goods across state lines that were made in violation of minimum wage, overtime pay, child labor, or other special minimum wage requirements.

How To Spot Wage and Hour Violations

Wage and hour violations are common. While wage and hour violations can take several forms, the following are some of the more common ones:

1. Failure to pay staff the prevailing wage or the minimum wage

If your employer fails to pay you the minimum wage for each hour you work, you may be entitled to liquidated damages. Liquidated damages are designed to compensate for injuries that are difficult to measure. Your employer's action or omission in failing to pay the minimum wage has caused you to incur additional damages, according to California law. You are entitled to liquidated damages equal to the amount of missed income if you were not paid at least the applicable minimum wage for the hours worked.

2. When overtime (or double pay) is earned but not paid.

California has a regular overtime standard that allows employers to pay qualifying workers for any hour worked in excess of eight in a day. Even if overtime was not allowed in the first place, the state mandates that it be charged. Multiple court decisions in California indicate that the employer has a right to know how many hours the employee can work and to inform them when their work hours are up. As a result, employers are responsible for the unpaid overtime hours.

Employees are often entitled to extra pay if they work more than 40 hours a week, such as when they are required to work more than eight hours a day or for more than five days a week. Employees are often entitled to time-and-a-half pay if they work for seven days in a row during a workweek. On the seventh day, the salary includes the first eight hours of work.

As a result, if your employer refused to compensate or count you for extra hours worked, your back pay award will include time and a half of your normal hourly rate for each hour worked overtime. If you work more than eight hours for the seventh day in a row or more than 12 hours in one day, you might be entitled to double pay.

Not all workers are eligible for back pay for overtime worked. Nonexempt hourly employees are eligible, but other forms of jobs are not. White-collar workers who do technical, high-level supervisory, and management work, as well as outside salespeople, are the most common exemptions. As a result, unless the employer may prove that you qualify for one of these exemptions, you are entitled to overtime pay.

Your employer could repay you the discrepancy between what you should have been compensated for and what you were actually paid if you were not paid for overtime hours. In addition to your daily salary, you can earn half of your hourly wage in time-and-a-half back pay.

3. Failure to compensate for all time spent on the job, such as time spent on-call or time spent preparing for a meeting.

In California, compensable "hours worked" do not only refer to the time an employee spends performing his or her daily duties during a regular shift. A company may also be expected to pay its staff for time spent on any of the following activities:

On-Call and Waiting Time Even if the employee is merely on-call or waiting for anything to happen, an employee who is expected to stay on the employer's premises is usually considered to be working and must be paid for all hours worked. Employees may be entitled to be compensated for waiting time even though they are off-site under some cases.

Training, workshop time. Nonexempt workers must be compensated for their preparation time under California law. The only training, workshops, or other similar tasks that are not compensated are those that take place outside of normal working hours and are not specifically related to the employee's job.

Time to prepare. And if an employee is forced to put on protective equipment or set up equipment before beginning his or her shift, the time spent on these tasks can be compensable.

Time to travel. Although commuting to and from a normal work location is normally not paid, an employer may be forced to pay for travel time to other locations, such as an employee performing errands on behalf of the employer or traveling to another work site as instructed by the employer.

4. Misclassifying a worker as an independent contractor is a common blunder.

Employees are listed as excluded or nonexempt under California wage and hour regulations. Employees who are not excluded are entitled to back pay, whether they are hourly or salaried. They include people who work in scientific, professional, mechanical, clerical, or similar positions, regardless of whether they are paid on commission, piece rate, time, or any other basis. Exempt workers, on the other hand, could be exempt from overtime and lunch break rules. Independent contractors, white-collar jobs, and commission-based employees can all fall into this group.

Independent Contractor

An independent contractor is a person who works for another person under California labor law. An independent contractor is paid a set amount for a particular result, but he or she maintains the power of how the work is performed. Even if the worker was employed as an independent contractor, the worker would be considered an employee if the arrangement with the individual who has ordered the services is more of an employer-employee relationship. The worker will be covered as an employee under California labor, wage/hour, and lunch break laws in this scenario.

White-Collar Employees

Individuals who serve in technical, managerial, executive, or administrative capacities are classified as white-collar jobs. In order to be considered an exempt white-collar worker in California, a worker must meet certain criteria. These prerequisites are as follows:

  • At least half of their time at work is spent on administrative, intellectual, or artistic tasks.

  • When it comes to executing their job duties, they have independent judgment and discretion.

  • Their monthly pay is at least double the state of California's minimum wage for full-time jobs.

5. Paying employees less than the commissions and/or bonuses they were offered.

If you and your boss agreed to a 6% commission, that is the sum your boss could pay. The employer can try to reduce your commission if you have a strong sales record, but the employer cannot usually adjust the commission rate for sales that have already been made. The commission agreement can affect a claim for failure to pay commission.

If your employer fails to pay an agreed-upon payment under your employment contract, you will be able to file a contract claim against them. Consult an employment lawyer about your contract to ensure that your employer is not manipulating you and that you receive the benefits you deserve.

6. Employees are not reimbursed for such work-related expenditures.

The following are examples of common job expenses that an employer might have a problem reimbursing:

  • Expenses for travel

  • Expenses associated with operating from home

  • Equipment/tools

  • Mobile calls and telephone bills

  • Purchase of materials for the workplace

  • uniforms for function

  • Entertainment

  • Meals

And if the employer refuses to pay, California labor laws grant you the right to be reimbursed for business expenses. Filing a lawsuit or a trade action against your employer under California Labor Code 2802 would allow you to recover an award for reimbursement of necessary expenses. The reward shall contain interest beginning on the date the employee incurred the required expenditure or cost, in addition to the expenses.

Attorney's fees incurred in upholding the employee's labor law rights can be recoverable in addition to costs and interest. Some employers want to stop reimbursing workers because they feel the employee would not go to the trouble of finding a lawyer if the payout isn't significant. The right to recover legal costs ensures that the contractor is kept responsible for their conduct.

In addition, if an employer fails to comply with the state's reimbursement obligations, the Labor Commissioner can issue a citation. This monetary penalty could be used to punish the employer for breaking the law or attempting to exploit the employee. The amount of money awarded to the employer if the court or commissioner issues a citation depends on a variety of factors, including:

  • Sum of compensation

  • The number of infractions

  • The employer's previous labor breaches

  • Employees that have been influenced

7. Employees are made to work during their rest or meal breaks (and not paying them for working through these breaks)

Meal Breaks

In most cases, California law requires that hourly workers be given at least one uninterrupted 30-minute meal break per day if they work more than five hours per day.

Though there are exceptions, these meal breaks must usually meet certain specific criteria, such as:

They must be taken at fixed intervals.

For the duration of the break, employees must be fully relieved of their responsibilities.

The employee has the option of remaining on the job during mealtime.

Employees working more than 10 hours a day may be eligible for a second meal break.

Rest Break

Employees must be allowed and approved to take rest breaks in addition to meal breaks, which accrue at a rate of ten consecutive minutes for each four-hour work cycle. You may be entitled to compensation if there are issues with rest periods.

These rest breaks, including meal breaks, must follow some specific standards, such as:

  • Rest times must be compensated in the same way as regular working hours.

  • They have to be taken in the middle of a workday.

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How to Report It:

One of the most popular workplace infractions is the failure to take a lunch break. Some employers are unaware of the regulation. Some people just ignore the rules. In either case, California's wage and hour laws cover you, including the right to pay for each violation.

Violations on Meal Breaks

If you work a shift of at least six hours, your employer is expected to provide you with a 30-minute lunch break. You are entitled to a second meal break if you work a 10-hour shift. If you are genuinely off duty and free to come and go at lunch, this could be an unpaid break.

Your boss, on the other hand, will be obligated to compensate you for your time off:

  • If you have to work over lunch, it's a good idea to pack a lunch.

  • For any portion of your break, whether you are on duty, standby, or on-call,

  • If you have to stay on the premises throughout your lunch break,

  • When you get paid for your lunch break, it counts against your hours worked and overtime.

Violations on Rest Breaks

For every four hours worked, you are entitled to a 10-minute rest break (two daily breaks in addition to your meal break). It has to be ten minutes of unscheduled time. You cannot be forced to clock out or get your pay docked for using the bathroom or taking your legally mandated break time.

Violations of the Lunch/Rest Break Compensation

For any day that your meal or rest break rights were violated, your current or former employer is responsible for one hour of pay, plus any overtime pay.

8. Forcing workers to operate "off the clock."

Off-the-clock work is described in California as any work done without pay by a nonexempt employee. This is valid in all sectors, for both salaried and hourly jobs. The following are some of the most famous examples of off-the-clock work:

  • Work performed before or after a shift, including planning and cleaning

  • completing a project to the satisfaction of the client

  • Error correction

  • Working after a meal or a rest is not a good idea

  • Job in the workplace

  • Training sessions or meetings that are needed

10. Retaliation against workers who ask about unpaid wages or file a lawsuit for employer's wage and hour laws violations.

Employers are forbidden under all employment laws from retaliating against workers who participate in protected conduct. Complaining regarding or challenging activities prohibited by the laws, as well as engaging in inquiries into prohibited behavior, are examples of protected action.

Termination, failure to encourage, punitive transfers, and other acts that have a material effect on the terms and conditions of employment are examples of adverse employment behavior. Although the above examples of verdicts and settlements may not be common, only an experienced employment lawyer can accurately determine your case.

The most common reported basis of workplace discrimination, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), is workplace retaliation (EEOC). Your employer cannot fire you or discriminate against you if you are involved in the following legal practices:

  • You've filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or are a witness in a lawsuit.

  • You've been informing your employer about workplace discrimination and/or harassment.

  • During an employment-related lawsuit, you answered questions.

  • You refused to obey instructions that would lead to unlawful conduct.

  • You turned down unwelcome advances or stood up to bullies to protect a coworker.

  • You asked for special consideration because of a disability or to participate in religious activity.

  • You inquired about wage data from supervisors or colleagues in order to expose unfair pay.

It's important to note that participating in the complaint process is free from workplace discrimination and retribution in all circumstances. Other acts that oppose employment discrimination are covered as long as the worker acted because he or she believed California labor laws were being broken. On the other hand, participating in protected activities would not automatically protect employees from punishment or dismissal.

Employers should suspend or even fire employees if the adverse action is motivated by non-retaliatory and non-discriminatory intent. California employment lawyer who have represented workers facing retaliation can assist you with damages and other bay pay.

Employers in California are prohibited from taking any action that would discourage someone from opposing or complaining about alleged discrimination if an employee is engaging in lawful activity. If this is the case, you can contact one of our pre-screened employment attorneys in California right away.

Here are some examples of retaliation by an employer against an employee who engages in protected activities:

  • Reprimanding the employee or making an unfair or inaccurate view of his or her job performance.

  • Transferring the employee to a less desirable role.

  • Making a verbal or physical assault report.

  • Threatening to report an employee to immigration officials or the police.

  • Growing criticism of an employee without adequate reason.

  • Spreading False Information or Gossip Among Employees.

  • Making the employee's job more complicated by changing their schedule and assigning them to a difficult-to-reach role.

  • Changing the employee's job duties to something less appealing.

  • Putting a pay freeze in place.

Class Actions in Wage and Hour Law

A class-action case is meant to represent a group of persons who have all been harmed by the same defendant. Wage and hour disputes often include class actions. Suppose an employer commits a pay violation against one employee. In that case, it is very likely that the employer will commit the same violation against all, or at least a large number, of its other employees.

For example, an employer can refuse to pay overtime, failure to pay for preparation time prior to official shifts, incorrectly round off time, or misclassify its workers as independent contractors as a matter of course. Suits upholding the common legal rights of all employees wronged by the same employer are far more fruitful than individual suits in situations like these and are an efficient way to hold the employer accountable for their wrongdoing.

Pay Requirements

1. Requirements for Overtime Pay

Nonexempt workers are entitled to 1.5 times their normal rate of pay if they work more than 40 hours in a workweek or more than 8 hours in a single workday. As a result, even though an employee works fewer than 40 hours per week on average, he or she is still entitled to extra pay on days where they worked more than 8 hours. In addition, on the seventh consecutive day of work, all hours worked must be charged at the overtime rate.

A job that exceeds 12 hours in a single workday must be paid at least twice the employee's normal rate of pay.

2. Pay Requirements for Commission-Paying Employees

Employers are legally forbidden from paying commission-based workers less than the minimum wage, regardless of the amount of revenue produced by these employees. Outside salespeople who primarily work "out in the field" away from the workplace are the only commissioned workers who could be excluded from minimum wage requirements.

Employees who collect commissions will be eligible for overtime if they earn more than half of their income from commissions and earn more than 1.5 times the minimum wage in each pay period. Commissions must be factored into the overtime premium rate estimate for workers who are eligible for overtime.

3. Requirements for "Piece-Rate" Employees

Employees who are paid on a "piece rate" must receive at least the minimum wage for each pay period, regardless of their production. Piece rate workers must also be paid separately at least the minimum wage for time spent doing non-piece rate jobs, such as washing, waiting for orders, collecting pieces, and so on.

4. On Illegal Hours Rounding

In industries where time clocks are used, rounding to the nearest 5 minutes, twentieth, or quarter of an hour is common. The employer's rounding policy could be unconstitutional if it repeatedly rounds the time down rather than up, resulting in an overall reduction in hours and loss of pay over time.

5. Requirements for Tips and Gratuities

Employers cannot deduct tips and gratuities from the mandatory minimum wage payment. Employers are also forbidden from sharing their workers' tips or tip pools.

The terms gratuity and tip are practically interchangeable. They are described as money left for a business employee by a customer that is in excess of the amount owed for products or services. Customers leave tips to show their gratitude for good service, and they may vary in value from a few cents to thousands of dollars or more.

Is it Legal for Employers to Deduct Tips?

The response is no in California (Lab C 351), but there is an exception for tip pooling. What is the reason for this? Because simply put, a tip is a gift given by a customer to a business employee and is not intended for the business itself. That is to say:

  • The tip belongs to the employee who received it, whether it was given directly (in cash) or indirectly (in-kind) (added to the total on a debit or credit card)

  • The size of the tip is determined by the consumer and given freely; the employer cannot require it.

  • The employer and its agents are not allowed to share in the tip or make deductions from an employee's wages because of tips paid.

Employees' tips are not included in their salaries.

While, in general, employers and their agents are prohibited from sharing tips. The California 4th District Court of Appeal held in Chau v Starbucks Corp. (2009) 174 CA4th 688, 69 that a shift supervisor acting as part of a coffee shop's customer service team could share in collective tip. Tips from customers are intended to be shared by all counter staff (more on tip pooling in a bit).

How to File a Lawsuit Against the California Labor Board for Unpaid Wages

You might file an unpaid wage complaint with the California Labor Commissioner's Office or in court if your employer refused to adequately pay you for your work. If you plan to file a wage claim with the California Labor Board, the Labor Commissioner's How to File a Wage Claim page has guidance about how to do so, including the form you'll need to fill out.

When dealing with a wage and hour claim, you can always employ a lawyer, whether you report unpaid wages to the Labor Board or file a regular court case. This is particularly relevant if your wage claim is big or complicated or if you don't feel comfortable filing it yourself.

To recover unpaid wages, a California labor lawyer will file a wage claim with the Labor Commissioner's Office on your behalf or file a complaint in court. If your case is successful, your lawyer will ask the judge to order your employer to pay your legal fees.

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Back pay may be ordered under the Fair Labor Standards Act's various federal contract laws (FLSA). Employees who have been wrongfully refused overtime compensation are entitled to the regular overtime pay rates under the FLSA. The employer must now pay employees at least the minimum wage in back pay. It's worth remembering that if an employee has already earned back pay or if the Secretary of Labor has already filed suit, he or she cannot bring a private complaint.

When an employer has breached wage and hour regulations against multiple workers, a class action lawsuit may be brought. Unpaid wages for missed breaks, rest periods, or overtime hours are common examples.

It is in your best interest to retain the services of an experienced California wage and hour attorney when filing a wage and hour complaint. An attorney will explain your rights to you and file a wage claim or a lawsuit on your behalf to recover your unpaid wages. You shouldn't be concerned about the cost of hiring a wage and hours attorney because your lawyer will operate on a contingency basis, which means that if you win your case, the judge will order your employer to pay your attorney's fees.

When is a worker entitled to back pay?

Employees in California could be entitled to back pay if their salaries and benefits are lost as a result of their employer's wrongful acts. As a result of unfair firing due to sexual discrimination or a hostile work climate, the majority of workers earn back pay awards. Wrongful job policies include the following:

  1. Refusing to pay overtime

  2. Refusing to offer promised promotions

  3. In a workplace discrimination case, dismissing an employee.

  4. Withholding wages after an employee revealed workplace wrongdoing or discouraging them from doing so

  5. Penalties and Restitution for Unpaid Salaries in California

Companies that breach California's wage and hour laws can face substantial penalties. If you did a job, you are required by law to be paid in compliance with state and federal guidelines as well as the terms of your employment contract.

You will be seeking monetary compensation for the earnings your employer did not pay you in any form of unpaid wage action against your employer. This type of payout, which is referred to as "damages" rather than "penalties," is intended to compensate workers for the losses they have suffered.

California Interest on Unpaid Wages

Businesses can face additional penalties or fines in addition to damages if they violate their employees' rights. Unpaid salaries can be subject to a tax of up to ten percent per year in interest. This is intended not only to punish the employer but also to prevent them from engaging in this form of operation in the future.

According to the California Labor Code, an employer cannot discriminate against an employee who is fighting for their rights under wage and hour laws. Wrongful termination happens when an employer dismisses an employee. Furthermore, if an employer retaliates against an employee for making a compensation claim, the employee can have a separate cause of action against the employer.

When Is It Too Late to File a Claim?

You must act quickly if you report a wage breach to the Labor Board or file a formal complaint. Employment-related cases are subject to statutes of limitations, and the longer you wait, the less time your lawyer will have to make a convincing argument in your favor. If you don't reach these strict deadlines, you might lose the right to get reasonable compensation.

In California, you have three years from the date of the most recent breach of a statutory right, such as minimum wage, holidays, or overtime pay, to file a lawsuit. If your pay allegation is based on a written employment contract, you have four years to file a lawsuit, while an oral contract has a two-year statute of limitations.

It's best to pursue your wage claim as soon as you know you're owed unpaid wages, just to be safe. A respectable California wage and hour lawyer will analyze your situation and decide whether you can proceed with a lawsuit if you are uncertain which legal category the case falls under or if the statute of limitations has expired.

Find a California Labor Lawyer who has been pre-screened.

If you have been discriminated against, wrongfully dismissed, harassed, or retaliated against at work, you will be entitled to reimbursement for medical expenses, back pay, front salary, current, and potential pain and suffering, and emotional distress.

Our employment attorneys in California understand that a case involving employment will cost people not only their jobs and professions but also their health and mental well-being, as well as their financial security. In these circumstances, the stakes are enormous.

How Do I Obtain An Unbiased Referral To An Ethical, Pre-Screened California Wage and Hours Attorney?

You can make a request online at any time. Within 15 minutes, you will receive a free case summary.

Within 5 minutes, you'll be chatting with an employment lawyer specializing in California wages and hours law.

Call the employee rights hotline at 1-661-310-7999, open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

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