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Unpaid wages claims are legal actions that workers file to recover wages that their employer refuses to pay. Workers can initiate unpaid wages claims in California through the California Labor Commissioner’s Office or in court.

Your attorney can help you figure out which strategy makes the most sense for your situation. 

Important California Wage Laws

California employees have certain rights under the law. Here are some of the most important wage laws that you should be aware of:

  • Minimum wage—California employers must pay workers at least the state minimum wage, unless they fall under certain exceptions;
  • Overtime—Employees that work more than 40 hours in a week must receive one-and-one-half times their regular rate of pay for the additional time;
  • Mandatory breaks—Employers must grant their workers a 10-minute break for every four hours worked or compensate the employee; and
  • Reporting time pay—Employers must compensate employees for reporting to work even if they are not put to work.

The laws treat employees and independent contractors differently. Generally, legal protections are not as strong for independent contractors. California wage and hour laws do not apply to independent contractors at all.

The law presumes that a worker is an employee, and it is up to the employer to counter this presumption. There are penalties for misclassifying employees as independent contractors.

Unpaid Wages Claims in the Labor Commissioner’s Office

After you file a wages claim, the Labor Commissioner’s Office will investigate. They will probably schedule a settlement conference that you’ll have with your employer to try to work out the issues.

If that is not successful, a hearing officer will review the case and make a decision. This route is not an option for independent contractors. 

Workers must file unpaid wages claims within a certain amount of time, and the deadline depends upon your situation. You have:

  • Two years for claims based on an oral promise to pay more than minimum wage;
  • Three years for claims violations of minimum wage, overtime, illegal deductions, or unpaid reimbursements; or
  • Four years if your claim is based on a written contract.

You must gather the necessary documentation to support your claim. You could show the wages due via pay stubs, timesheets, your work schedule, etc.

It’s also important to know that your employer cannot retaliate against you for filing an unpaid wage claim. If they do, you can file a retaliation complaint

Unpaid Wages Lawsuits

Employees can also sue their employers for damages based on unpaid wages. In cases where employers refused to pay many employees, a class-action lawsuit would be appropriate.

Class-action lawsuits increase workers’ chances of recovering damages for wage violations. Your attorney will discuss your options to come up with the best strategy for your situation. 

What Are California Unpaid Wages Claims Penalties?

The damages available to unpaid wages claimants depend on the labor code violation. Generally, workers can recover their back wages with interest and attorney’s fees.

Employers that violated the requirement for mandatory breaks must pay their workers one hour of wages for every break the employee did not get.

Employers that deliberately violate the labor code may owe double the amount of damages. 

If You Need an Employment Lawyer, Contact the Farzam Law Firm

The Farzam Law Firm is ready to help. We can guide you through the process with the Labor Commission or represent you in court. It is likely that you are not alone and that your coworkers are in the same situation.

We will protect your rights and interests as you move through the legal system.

Contact the Farzam Law Firm to discuss your employment claim.

Author Photo

Joseph Farzam

Mr. Farzam attended Santa Monica high school and worked at McDonald’s and local coffee shops to support himself. Although he worked 2 or 3 jobs, he valued education greatly and earned a bachelor’s degree from California State University, Northridge in biology, and attended the prestigious Pepperdine University School of Law. He graduated with high marks and passed the California bar exam on the first try. Mr. Farzam has received the coveted titles of Super Lawyer, Los Angeles Magazine’s Top Lawyers, and has received The Litigator Awards.  He is a proud member of the Consumer Attorneys Association of Los Angeles (CAALA) and California Employment Lawyers Association (CELA).

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