How To Get Unpaid Wages In California

Updated: Jan 27

Addressing Wage Theft, Retaliation, And Reporting Your Boss

Unfortunately, wage theft is widespread. Additionally, it isn't always obvious or detectable. It can take many different forms outside simply stealing money from your paycheck. Contact An Employment Lawyer in California to better understand unpaid wages, and help you file claims to get it back.

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You are entitled to be paid what you are owed. Your employer is legally compelled to do so, and refusing or failing to pay you is a violation of California Employment Laws. In addition, employee protection laws allow workers the right to seek restitution for wages that they have earned but have not been paid. Thus, if you work in California, you have access to some of the country's most protective laws.

What Are Your Wage and Hour Rights as a California Employee?

You must be classed as a "non-exempt employee" to be eligible for wage protection laws. These types of employees have significantly more legal protections than independent contractors.

In California, you are considered a non-exempt employee if you:

  1. Work mostly under your employer's authority and guidance.

  2. The work you do is part of your employer's normal operations.

  3. You don't otherwise operate an independent trade or business.

Your company is obligated by law to provide the following benefits to all qualified California employees:

  • Allow for a 30-minute unpaid meal break for every shift longer than 5 hours.

  • Another 30-minute unpaid meal break if your shift exceeds 10 hours.

  • As required by state and federal law, provide sick pay and family and medical leave.

  • You must be paid the appropriate minimum wage (including salaried workers), prevailing wage, overtime, and double-time.

  • Allow you to be reimbursed for things like gas mileage and your business cellphone plan.

  • Pay you on time—at least once every 15 days consistently, instantly if fired, and within 72 hours if you quit.

  • If you lose your job, your employer must provide you unemployment compensation.

  • Subsidize your health insurance policies, social-security levies, and Medicare premiums.

Depending on the field you work in, you may have more significant safeguards and privileges, as California has particular labor regulations for the computer, entertainment, garment, and restaurant industries.

For any more specific concerns, ask your Employment Lawyer in Los Angeles for details. They'll know your case specifics and can add more tailored legal advice in consideration of the unique circumstances of your Employment Law Case.

The Most Common Cases Of Wage Theft

Employee misclassification, in which businesses misclassify employees as "exempt" or "independent contractors," is one of the most common types of pay theft.

Independent contractors, unfortunately, do not have the same rights and protections as employees. As a result, some companies try to save money by misclassifying personnel, depriving people of income they have earned fairly under the law.

Wage theft can take many forms, in addition to misclassification:

  1. Failure to pay workers the minimum or prevailing wage, earned commissions or bonuses, or hazard pay, even if it is stipulated in their contract.

  2. Failure to adjust salaries after new laws are enacted, or the minimum wage is increased.

  3. Employees are pressured to work after hours without being paid overtime.

  4. Employees being forced to work during their constitutionally permitted breaks.

  5. Employees who do not use their vacation time are not paid.

  6. Failure to pay the required social security and medicare taxes.

  7. They are deducting money from your paycheck without your permission for any reason.

  8. Failure to pay employees on time on a regular basis.

  9. Employees not being reimbursed for work-related expenses (i.e., gas money, travel allowance, etc.)

If you're a victim of wage theft, the prospect of taking it up with your boss might be intimidating, especially if you're afraid of retaliation. Employee Protections in California, on the other hand, are strong, and retaliation is prohibited.

Additionally, you may not be alone if your boss is stealing your wages. A company's improper wage practices could damage a large number of its employees. If this is the case, you may be able to file a class-action lawsuit against your employer for all of your lost income.

Find a California Employment Attorney to review your options.

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What Are Your Options for Combating Wage Theft and Recovering Your Unpaid Wages?

You can file a claim with the California Labor Commission or another relevant state or federal agency if your employer fails to pay you the wages you are entitled to under the law. You can also sue your employer in a wage and hour lawsuit or as part of a class action.

State and federal agencies have mechanisms in place to ensure that you receive the wages you are legally owed. However, a wage theft lawsuit may be your best choice if those methods fail.

When you bring a civil case or a class action against a firm for wage and hour breaches, the law aims to reimburse you for your losses with monetary damages. Many wage and hour disputes result in settlements where the company agrees to pay the proper wages owed to their employees. This might be millions of dollars paid out by the company in a substantial class-action case.

If your employer takes retaliatory action against you for filing a legitimate wage complaint, they may be liable for even more damages under the law.

In the event of retaliation, a court may force your employer to pay punitive penalties. These penalties are intended to penalize businesses that engage in particularly egregious, deliberate, or malicious actions. Punitive damages can result in significant settlements or judgments, depending on the breadth and severity of the infractions.

You Aren't Paid For Overtime

In California, most hourly employees are eligible for overtime pay at a higher rate based on the number of hours worked. Thus, an employee may be entitled to the following:

  • One and a half times their regular hourly wage when working more than 8 hours per day or 40 hours per week.

  • Twice the standard rate of pay for the first 8 hours worked on the seventh consecutive day if:

  • Working more than 12 hours per day

  • Counted after the eighth hour on the seventh day

If you have any issues about overtime pay, contact a California Labor Law Attorney to help you. Workers who have been wrongfully denied overtime pay might also be entitled to collect not only their unpaid overtime income but also:

  • Reasonable attorneys' fees

  • Charges

  • Interest

  • Damages under the California Labor Code.

Additional 'liquidated damages,' equal to the amount of wages owed, are also allowed under federal and California law. State and federal overtime requirements are frequently complex and unclear, and companies frequently misclassify employees, either purposefully or accidentally, resulting in the nonpayment of overtime payments.

That said, it might be an honest oversight. So speak to your employer or HR for your concerns. However, multiple violations of not paying the employee in the allotted time might be grounds for an employment law claim. But, again, your lawyer will know how to steer the case in a way that best benefits you.

Overtime Pay Misclassified as "Exempt"

Overtime pay is not paid to employees who are legally 'exempt' from overtime restrictions. These exceptions, however, are interpreted very narrowly. In addition, California law establishes specific criteria for determining whether an employee is "exempt."

Employers frequently misclassify employees as exempt when they do not meet the legal requirements for an exemption and, as a result, should be paid overtime compensation.

Employers frequently misclassify employees in the following ways:

1. Misclassification of Employees as "Independent Contractors"

Independent contractors work and get paid according to what's written in their contract, which is different from an employee who receives a regular salary. More importantly, independent contractors don't have the benefits of a salaried employee—including overtime pay.

Unfortunately, employers tend to misclassify employees as "independent contractors" as an underhanded way to reduce their company expenses. When a company erroneously identifies employees as independent contractors, the employees are denied overtime pay.

2. Complicated Overtime Laws For Specific Industries and Job Descriptions

California also has its own set of convoluted overtime wage laws that apply to employees in certain businesses. Employment laws and employer liabilities can change, even within the same industry.

To better illustrate this complicated legal maze, consider the following:

  • Most "commercial drivers" may be subject to laws, but "interstate commercial drivers" may be exempt.

  • Certain highly skilled medical practitioners are exempt from overtime pay, while others are not.

  • Computer programmers and computer network analysts may be subject to separate rules.

Our prescreened, knowledgeable Employment Lawyers in Los Angeles can assist you in deciphering the rules that pertain to your industry and occupation.

Here are some examples of employees who may have significant unpaid overtime claims:

  • Managers' assistants

  • Truck drivers

  • Limo drivers

  • Other drivers who do not cross state borders

Overtime pay is not paid to:

  • Software designers

  • Network analysts

  • Computer engineers

  • IT professionals

  • Other computer or software workers who work more than eight hours per day or forty hours per week

Other examples:

  • Nurses that work more than 8 hours per day or 40 hours per week (but are not qualified midwives or practitioners)

  • Those who work more than 8 hours per day or 40 hours per week as ambulance drivers or emergency medical technicians

  • Hourly employees such as janitors, housekeepers, hotel clerks, cashiers, and others

  • Mortgage brokers, stockbrokers, bank or home loan staff, or insurance salespeople who have been incorrectly labeled as exempt while they are entitled to overtime

The point is, unpaid wage isn't an isolated issue. It is a problem workers from all industries face and sometimes do nothing about.

Prevailing Wages

Certain private firms in California are compelled to pay their employees a "prevailing wage." This usually happens if government agencies award them public works contracts, and the employer is required to give the same wage to people who work the same job across the board.

It is a minimum wage determined by the Department of Industrial Relations for public works employees working on similar projects in similar industries and locations.