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How To Get Unpaid Wages In California

Updated: Dec 8, 2022

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 forms, aside from simply stealing money from your paycheck.


Contact an employment lawyer to better understand unpaid wages, and help you file claims to get them 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 violates California Employment Laws. In addition, employee protection laws allow workers to seek restitution for wages they have earned but have not been paid. Thus, working in California gives you 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 per state and federal law requirements, 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 with unemployment compensation.

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

Depending on your work field, 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 California Unpaid Wages Attorney 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 regularly.

  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 many 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 Unpaid Wages 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 to ensure 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:

  1. Working more than 12 hours per day

  2. Counted after the eighth hour on the seventh day

If you have any issues with overtime pay, contact a California Unpaid Wages 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 the following:

  • Reasonable attorneys' fees

  • Charges

  • Interest

  • Damages under the California Labor Code.

Additional 'liquidated damages,' equal to the number 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 is 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 California Unpaid Wages Attorney 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 the unpaid wage isn't an isolated issue. It is a problem worker from all industries face and sometimes does 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 must 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.


After 7 hours of work per shift, some employees who are entitled to prevailing wages must be given overtime premium rates. Employers who fail to pay their employees prevailing wages are subject to substantial penalties, fines, and attorneys' costs, in addition to compensating them for any underpayment.


Other Cases Of Wage Theft

Other infractions of the California Labor Code are common among California businesses, including:

  1. Not reimbursing employees for work-related expenditures

  2. Failing to pay for all accumulated but unused vacation wages at the end of an employee's time at the company

  3. Clothes and other safety equipment are not provided free of charge to employees

  4. pay stubs that aren't accurate or have a lot of corrections

However, if you feel your specific case isn't represented in any of the examples above, you should contact one of our prescreened California Unpaid Wages Attorney to help you draft and strategize your employment law case.

Your legal counsel could advise you on the best thing to do. In addition, if you have other employment law claims that overlap your wage theft claims (i.e., retaliation, wrongful termination, discrimination, harassment, etc.), you're lawyer might help you prepare for those, too.

How Much Can You Claim?


There are several restrictions on how far back you can file a claim for unpaid wages in California. The first thing to remember is that you have the legal right to sue a current or former employer if they have not paid you everything you are owed.


Second, depending on the circumstances, you may have up to four years to file your claim. Third, speak with an expert California Unpaid Wages Attorney to see if you have a claim for unpaid wages.


How Do Employers Get Away With It?

Employers utilize various tactics to avoid or delay paying payments that are owed to employees or contractors. The following are a few examples of these underhanded techniques:

  • Neglecting to pay you the salary you are owed

  • Not paying you the minimum wage

  • Failure to compensate for overtime

  • Making unauthorized deductions

  • Denying reimbursement for reasonable expenses

  • Failure to pay you commissions or bonuses that you are entitled to

  • Excluding sick pay

  • Omitting paid time off or vacation pay

  • Refuse to pay you the tips and gratuities that you are entitled to

  • Not giving you receipts, paystubs, or other records

  • Employees are classified as independent contractors to avoid paying benefits

  • Paying a per-piece rate to a worker that does not meet California's minimum hourly wage

  • Not adhering to the reporting time pay criteria

Unfortunately, many unwary employees will go unnoticed if their boss uses some of these techniques. Others may observe but fear retaliation or believe they have no chance against a larger institution.


If you have even the slightest suspicion that your employer has broken the law and owes you wages, you should always seek the advice of an expert California Unpaid Wages Attorney. An experienced unpaid wage lawyer will have the insight, expertise, and abilities to validate unpaid wages, determine what the employer did to avoid paying those wages and take the necessary actions to ensure that you receive and get compensated with what you are entitled to.

What If My Boss Tries To Get Back At Me For Reporting?

So, if you're worried about reporting workplace difficulties or have been discriminated against for doing so, you should speak with a California Wrongful Termination Lawyer. An experienced California Unpaid Wages Attorney can help you work through the facts of your case, maintain your composure, and pursue the justice you deserve.

Before we can have a meaningful discourse about retaliation, we must define what we mean by "protected activity" in the workplace. In general, protected activity refers to legal actions taken by an employee in response to illegal or unethical employment conditions. Furthermore, many state and federal equal opportunity employment laws define what constitutes unlawful workplace discrimination, harassment, and other acts.


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Per government policy, these standards also protect people from harassment and establish core ethical and safety guidelines.

So when your boss tries to get back at you by encouraging harassment, handing unfair punishment, unjustifiably demoting you for reporting or suing them, contact a California Unpaid Wages Attorney to help you collect damages or compensation.

Employees who have been fired for reporting or suing their boss have grounds for Wrongful Termination. A California Unpaid Wages Attorney can help you decide whether to file a federal complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or a state complaint with the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA)

In either scenario, your employer is prohibited by law from retaliating against you after you file a complaint alleging illegal behavior.


What Is The Best Way To Prove Retaliation?


In California, you must be able to prove three components to win a retaliation claim:

  1. You took part in a legally protected activity.

  2. As a result, your employer retaliated against you.

  3. Your employer took retaliatory action in response to the protected activity.

Participating in protected action requires claiming your own or a coworker's rights. This usually means you've complained about illegal discrimination or some other form of criminal activity.

However, participating in an investigation into employee claims is included. For example, if a coworker files a lawsuit alleging discrimination or harassment, and you testify against your employer, you are protected from retribution under the law. Likewise, if you reported your employer to employment law-related agencies and were fired or harassed for it, you have grounds for retaliation or a Wrongful Termination claim.


Also, even if it is later proved that you were wrong, you cannot be punished or retaliated against if you reported your employer fully thinking that criminal activity was taking place. If you have cause to believe that your employer is breaking worker or workplace protection rules, you should contact the appropriate agencies and file a report.

What Evidence Is Important in a Retaliation Case in California?


Whether you're seeking for a California Employment Attorney to handle your case or that attorney is fighting yours in court, evidence will play a critical part in the outcome of your claim.

Here are a few things to think about when you arrange your get-together:

  1. Photos. Bring whatever video or photographic evidence you have to show your attorney. Keep track of any unpleasant conduct or treatment you've received. Although retaliatory measures can be subtle, capturing them on camera will assist you in showing your lawyer the seriousness of your current situation. (However, you should consult an attorney before collecting any audio or video recordings.)

  2. Correspondences, like messages and chats. Keep a record of any harassing, discriminating, or retaliatory emails, discussions, or communications. Take screenshots of the chat rooms and keep all of your emails in one place so you can find them quickly.

  3. Pay stubs and written notices. These records could show that your employer sacked you without cause, demoted you, or threatened you with punishment or retaliation. In any case, these factors might lead to a hostile work atmosphere, making it more difficult for you to fulfill your duties.

  4. Medical Records. You may show signs of failing health if you're overworked or facing extravagant amounts of anguish due to retaliatory behavior. In addition, you can suit non-economic damages in California, so don't be afraid to include them as proof of the retaliation's consequences.

Even if you believe you have insufficient proof to provide to your California Unpaid Wages Attorney, don't hesitate to schedule a consultation with them. Good lawyers will conduct their investigations in addition to those undertaken by their clients and appointed authorities. In addition, if you don't have access to certain documents or documentation, your legal counsel may be able to help you obtain them.

Before presenting your evidence to agencies, it's a good idea to consult with a California Unpaid Wages Attorney. You have no idea if the evidence you have—illegally captured recordings, for example—will get you in trouble in the end.


Do You Require Legal Assistance?


Keep track of your work hours (start and end times and dates), break duration, number of breaks, and pay rate if you feel you've been the victim of wage theft. Make a comparison between your notes and your pay stubs. You should notify your employer if you see a disparity.

However, if you are concerned about reprisal, you should speak with a competent California Unpaid Wages Attorney. It's not a good idea to let it go without dealing with it. Wage theft is a major problem that costs hardworking individuals in our state and billions of dollars each year across the country.

However, the laws are complicated, and the burden of proof rests with the claimant—this means you need enough grounds to do so, like proper pieces of evidence. That can be a stressful experience that might end up working against you if the claim or case is not handled correctly, including procedural law.

Your claim could be dismissed if you make a mistake. Unfortunately, that means you won't get what you're owed. Rest assured, however, that an expert Labor Law Attorney in California.

Find A California Unpaid Wage Lawyer Near Me


Get California Lawyer Referrals Via 1000Attorneys. We'll match you up with the most fitting California Employment Attorney that can best handle your labor law claims.

Contact us on our 24/7 lawyer referral hotline at 1-661-310-7999 or complete our inquiry submission form for a FREE INITIAL CONSULTATION.

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