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Wage theft is commonplace in California and across the country. Each year, employees are forced to forgo pay due to wage theft. California and federal labor laws make wage theft illegal. Employers can be held accountable for unpaid wage claims.
Depending on the circumstances, it may be possible for affected employees to recover pay from an employer who stole their wages. Below, our wage and hour attorney in San Diego discusses what you need to know about wage theft in California.
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Our wage and hour attorney in San Diego can help you determine whether it would be possible to recover your wages. We can help you determine your legal options and understand California unpaid wages during a free consultation.
How Much Are California Wage Claims Worth?
How much you can obtain from a California wage claim depends on the circumstances. The amount you may recover depends on your pay, the specific violation and where you live.
California recently increased its minimum wage. As of January 1, 2020, the minimum wage is $13 for businesses with 26 or more workers and $12 an hour for businesses with less than 26 workers. If your employer failed to increase your pay after the change took effect, then you could receive extra pay. Some cities in California have a minimum wage higher than $13 an hour. How much you can recover depends on where you are working and how much pay you received from your employer. San Diego’s minimum wage is $13 an hour.
It may be necessary to file a lawsuit against your employer for unpaid wages. If you file a lawsuit, then you may be able to recover your unpaid wages and additional damages. Our employment law attorney can help you determine potential options for filing a lawsuit for unpaid wages.
How Long Does a Wage Claim Take in California?
A wage claim could take months before concluding. The length of time would depend upon the specific violations, the evidence, whether you need to appeal and even your location.
After you file a wage claim in California, a commissioner with the Department of Labor Standards Enforcement determines the next steps. The commissioner could dismiss your claim, schedule a settlement conference, or even an administrative hearing.
If your claim goes before a settlement conference, then the commissioner could work with you and your employer to determine whether a hearing is necessary. Our wage and hour attorney in San Diego can represent you during a hearing or settlement conference. We can also offer assistance if you are appealing a denied claim.
How Long Do I Have to File a Wage Claim in California?
How long you have to file a claim depends on the circumstances. If your employer committed minimum wage, overtime or meal break violations, then you have three years from the date of the most recent violation to file a claim.
However, the rules are different if your employer agreed to pay you above minimum wage through oral communication or a written contract. You have four years to file a claim if your employer violated a written contract and only two years if the violation involves an oral agreement.
You should not wait to file a claim if you have reason to believe you are a victim of wage theft. An employment law attorney can review your documentation and help you develop a strategy for pursuing your lost wages.
How Do I File a Wage Claim in California?
An attorney can help with the wage claim filing process. There are specific documents you must fill out to file your claim with the California Department of Labor Standards Enforcement. Which forms you must fill out depends on the type of wage theft and possibly other factors. For this reason, you should consider working with an attorney to avoid making any mistakes and to give your claim the best chance of succeeding.
Documentation is very important with any type of employment law claim. For a wage theft claim, you will want to make sure to include the following (if applicable):
- Pay stubs. You could compile digital copies or paper copies of your pay stubs. Be very careful to keep secure copies of your pay stubs.
- Time records. A journal or time logged through software used at your workplace may show the specific hours you worked.
- Notice to Employee Form. Your employer may have provided you with written information of your pay and benefits on your hire date. A copy of this form can be included with your claim.
- Bounced payments. You could include records of bounced checks or deposits.
Depending on what you are able to find, the Department of Labor Standards Enforcement may also ask your employer for these documents and records.
Which Laws Prevent Wage Theft in California?
There are state and federal laws that prevent wage theft. Depending on where you live, local laws may also affect your case. Wage theft laws that apply to California include:
- Fair Labor Standards Act. This federal law establishes minimum wage and rules for overtime. It also establishes rules for recordkeeping and paying minors for work.
- Wage Theft Protection Act. The Wage Theft Protection Act of 2011 established additional protections against wage theft. This law requires employers to provide non-exempt employees with written information regarding their pay and benefits.
- Assembly Bill 5. Under this new law, it is more difficult for businesses to misclassify employees, especially gig workers.
Whether your employer or former employer violated these laws depends on the circumstances. You can speak with a San Diego employment lawyer at The Gould Firm if you have reason to believe wage theft occurred.
What Are Examples of Wage Theft?
There are a number of ways employers can commit wage theft. Common examples of wage theft in California include:
- Misclassifying employees. An employer may classify you as an independent contractor to avoid paying a commission on sales. Additionally, an employer may misclassify you to force you to pay for work equipment without compensation. Your employer may also claim you are a supervisor to avoid paying overtime.
- Withholding breaks. Are you a nonexempt employee? Employers must provide rest periods based on your daily work hours. If your employer withheld these rest periods, then you may be entitled to pay.
- Unauthorized deductions. Your employer may attempt to deduct pay from your paycheck, or in other cases, steal tips. If your employer steals your pay, then you should keep documentation of the theft and contact a California employment law attorney.
- Paying less than the minimum wage. An employer may pay less than the state minimum wage. You may be able to recover extra pay if your employer violated minimum wage laws.
- Withholding final wages. Did your employer terminate your position? In some cases, employers may withhold final wages from an employee.
These are only a few common examples of wage theft in California. If you have any reason to believe your employer illegally took your wages, then you should speak to a California employment law attorney. An attorney can help you review legal options to recover your pay.