California has some of the most progressive labor laws in the United States and one of the highest minimum wages. Despite this, or perhaps partly because of it, some employers will still underpay their employees or deny them their rights under the law. Workers may suspect they have a claim against their bosses but still hold off on any legal action because they don’t have all the information they need or don’t know how to go about collecting what’s owed to them. Here’s what you need to know about unpaid wages in California.
Common Unpaid Wage Claims
An unpaid wage claim arises when an employer violates an employee’s statutory or contractual rights, resulting in the employee being paid less than they are owed. Here are some of the most common unpaid wage claims in California.
The current minimum wage in California is $15/hour or $14/hour for employers with 25 or fewer employees. If you are being paid less than that rate, you may be entitled to the difference in pay. Remember that some local minimum wages are actually higher than the state’s requirements. In San Francisco, for example, the current minimum wage is $16.32/hour.
Most workers are entitled to overtime compensation if they work more than eight hours a day, 40 hours a week, or six days per week. Work that exceeds those limits should be compensated at 150% of the regular rate. In some cases, such as for work that exceeds 12 hours in a day, workers must be compensated at 200% of their regular rate.
Employers may pressure or force employees to work before or after they’ve clocked in as a way to reduce expenses. This is often connected to overtime compensation, as employers seek to avoid going over the limits stated above.
Employees who work at least 5 hours a day are entitled to a meal break of at least 30 minutes. If the workday exceeds 10 hours, they are generally entitled to a second break.
Exempt/Contractor Classification – Some types of employees, such as white-collar workers, are exempt from many of these requirements, as are independent contractors. There may still be an unpaid wage claim, however, if the worker was improperly considered exempt or treated as a contractor.
Though these are the most common claims, this is by no means an exhaustive list. You may be owed unpaid wages if you were not paid for vacation days, reimbursed for business expenses, and more. If you suspect you are owed unpaid wages, you should contact an attorney.
Pursuing an Unpaid Wage Claim
One of the first priorities in successfully pursuing an unpaid wage claim is to ensure the case is filed before the statute of limitations expires. The statute of limitations is the maximum time allowed between when a violation occurs and when a claim can be filed. If the statute of limitation expires, you cannot collect on your claim.
The statute of limitations in unpaid wage cases depends on the type of claim involved. In most cases, such as claims arising from minimum wage, overtime, and meal break violations, the statute of limitations is three years. If the behavior is part of a regular pattern of underpayment, the statute of limitation usually starts running at the most recent violation. However, it’s very important to know that the statute of limitations may be shorter in some cases. For example, the statute of limitations for claims involving a bounced paycheck is just one year.
Because of this time limit, it’s crucial not to wait. If the statute of limitations is close to expiring, some employers may try to delay you through bad-faith negotiations. If the time limit passes, they win.
If you are still working for the employer against whom you have a claim, it’s understandable to be worried about retaliation. State law prohibits employers from retaliating against workers who file an unpaid wage claim against them. Such retaliation can take many forms, from firing the employee to reducing their hours. If your employer does something like this, you may have another legal claim against them.
Get Help with Your Unpaid Wage Claim
If you are considering pursuing an unpaid wage claim, it is highly advisable to do so with the help of an attorney. Your employer will almost certainly have a legal team, and they may try to intimidate you and make a lowball offer. Our experienced labor attorneys can evaluate your case, identify your potential claims, and help you get fair compensation. Contact us today to get started.