Can I Sue An Employer For Unpaid Wages In California?

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Located in: Gold River, CA


California has some of the most comprehensive laws in the nation for protecting workers from wage theft. California's wage and overtime laws are complex. Hiring the wrong lawyer to represent you in a wage and hour dispute can be disastrous. Hiring the right attorney is easy — just visit or call 1-800-456-3767 today.

Under the federal minimum wage law, known as the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), employers must pay overtime to employees who work more than 40 hours in a 7-day workweek. The California Labor Code includes an identical requirement, but adds a requirement that most employers must pay overtime for hours worked in excess of 8 in a single workday, unless there has been an alternative workweek previously approved by a secret ballot vote of employees in the work unit.

Several industry-specific requirements and exemptions are included in regulations, known as "wage orders," adopted by the Industrial Welfare Commission. The state agency that enforces these wage orders is the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE), also known as the Labor Commissioner.

California's additional paycheck and working hours requirements

California has a higher minimum wage than the federal minimum wage, and a longer statute of limitations for recovery of unpaid wages and overtime, going back up to 4 years. California law includes a variety of other protections, such as:

  • Employees must be allowed unpaid meal periods of at least 30 minutes for workdays longer than 6 hours
  • Employees must be allowed paid rest breaks of at least 10 minutes for roughly every 4 hours of work, not including a reasonable number of short bathroom breaks
  • Employees who are denied their meal periods or rest breaks must be paid one hour of wages per workday as additional compensation
  • Employees must be paid their undisputed wages due on the same day they are involuntarily terminated from employment, or within 3 days after the employee voluntarily quits
  • Employees must be given itemized wage statements every pay period, showing their hours worked, the applicable wage rate, all deductions and withholdings, and other information
  • Employers may not make unauthorized payroll deductions
  • Employers must pay prevailing wage rates to workers on public works projects, and submit "certified payroll" to prove it
  • Upon request and within short timeframes, employers must provide employees with copies of any personnel records the employee signs, and access to certain other records for inspection
  • Employers must pay non-exempt employees at least two times per calendar month
  • Temporary employees in staffing agencies must be paid no less than weekly

These are just a few of the many California employment law requirements for wages, hours of work, and overtime. There are many more, some of which are unique to the company's industry.

Misclassification as overtime exempt

A common problem is the misclassification of employees as "exempt" from overtime compensation. Certain professionals, administrators, executives, and computer professionals can lawfully be exempt from overtime pay. The company must be sure the employee qualifies as exempt based on the way the employee is paid, and the employee's actual job duties (not just a job title). Employees who are not properly classified and who work unpaid overtime can recover back wages, interest, penalties, and attorneys fees.

Retaliation is unlawful

Retaliation against employees making a good faith wage or overtime claim, such as firing, demotion, or undesirable transfer, is outlawed.

Labor Code Private Attorneys General Act

California allows employees to sue on behalf of themselves and in a representative capacity for other workers who are in the same situation, as well as recover certain civil penalties otherwise collectible only by the California Labor Commissioner. The state law that allows this is called the Labor Code Private Attorneys General Act, or "PAGA."

Government employers

Public agency employers, such as cities, counties, special districts, and the State of California, have certain different or legal requirements. Few lawyers have experience dealing with the special nature of government employee wage claims.

Call 1-800-456-3767 for a confidential consultation

For a confidential consultation with a California employment lawyer about your wage or overtime case, call 1-800-456-3767 today.

(c) 2013 Rose Law, APC


Disclaimer: This answer was provided by an attorney selected to Super Lawyers, and is intended to be an educated opinion only. This answer should not be relied upon as legal advice, nor construed as a form of attorney-client relationship.

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To: Joe Rose

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