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What Types of Unpaid Wage Claims Are There?

What Types of Unpaid Wage Claims Are There?

If you’ve worked hard for your employer in California but haven’t been fully paid what you’re owed, you may be wondering – what can you realistically expect to recover?

As employment law attorneys with over 20 years of experience representing workers in wage theft cases, we’re here to walk you through the answer.

A Quick Refresher on California Wage and Hour Laws

Employees in California have important rights under state and federal law that require employers to pay at least minimum wage, overtime premiums, provide meal and rest breaks, supply pay stubs, and compensate for all hours worked. When companies violate these rules, workers suffer real monetary damages.

Some of the key laws include:

  • California minimum wage – $16.00 per hour as of January 1, 2024.
  • Overtime pay – 1.5 times regular rate for over 8 hours in a day or 40 in a week, as well as for the first eight hours of a shift on the seventh consecutive day of a workweek Double time required for over 12 hours of a workday, as well as for all hours in worked beyond 8 hours on the seventh consecutive day of a workweek.
  • Meal breaks – Unpaid, duty-free 30 minute break required for shifts over 5 hours.
  • Rest breaks – Paid duty-free 10 minute breaks required for every 4 hours worked.
  • Pay stub and recordkeeping rules – Employers must supply wage statements which list specific information required by Cal. Labor Code Sec. 226, and must maintain records.
  • Final pay – Full payment of final wages owed must be within 24 hours upon termination, and within 72 hours upon resignation.

When employers don’t follow these rules, they are on the hook for any shortfall in compensation plus interest, damages, and penalties.

Common Wage Violations

Some common violations we see are failure to pay overtime, missed meal and rest breaks, withholding of final paychecks, and not reimbursing business expenses. Each of these can result in substantial unpaid wages over time.

For example, if you were required to work off-the-clock for 5 overtime hours per week over a year, you could have nearly $6,000 in unpaid overtime wages alone. When multiple people are affected, the unpaid wages add up quickly.

Damages and Remedies Available

If your employer has failed to pay all wages due, know that you have options and legal rights. Here is what you may recover:

Recovering Owed Wages

You can recover the full amount of back pay owed for any unpaid minimum, regular, and overtime wages. You are also entitled to interest on the unpaid wages, which helps account for the time value of money.

Additional Penalties

On top of the actual unpaid wages, the law provides for additional damages in the form of penalties against the employer. For example, if you aren’t provided legally required meal breaks, you may recover an extra hour of pay for each day on which you experienced a violation. Employers must also pay one hour of pay for each day on which it failed to authorize and permit rest breaks. These violations can trigger additional penalties as well.

How Much Is Your Case Worth?

When it comes to case values – how much is your case worth, and what can you realistically expect to recover? Not surprisingly, there is no uniform answer, and an experienced attorney will need to review your claims and consider all potential wage and hour claims, as well as penalties and interest. The more egregious the violations and longer they persist, the higher the ultimate settlement.

We’ve helped clients in many industries and positions recover wages owed to them. The bottom line is that California law protects you regardless of your occupation or status. You deserve fair pay.

Pursuing Your Unpaid Wage Claim

The good news is that employees have options for pursuing unpaid wage claims, whether filing with the labor commissioner or going to court.

Administrative Claims

You can start by filing a wage claim with the California Labor Commissioner’s office. This process is often faster and less expensive than going to court. However, your recovery may be capped, and you will not be entitled to the discovery and depositions that you would be entitled to in court.

Legal Representation

Filing a lawsuit is another avenue and may have additional benefits. Consulting with an experienced employment lawyer is highly recommended to understand your rights and legal options. An attorney can evaluate your specific circumstances and advise the best approach.

Are there deadlines to file an unpaid wage claim in California?

Yes, there are strict deadlines – generally 3 years – to file a claim for unpaid wages, although this deadline can typically be extended to four years by alleging violation of the right statutes. This window closes quickly, so it’s crucial to act fast if you have a valid unpaid wage claim.

Does unused paid vacation get paid out when employment ends?

Yes. All accrued vacation pay must be paid to employees upon separation of employment in California. Many employees don’t realize unused PTO must be paid out like other earned wages.

Can failure to commissions or bonuses be considered wage theft?

Yes, withholding earned commissions or bonuses owed to employees at termination may constitute wage theft. These incentive payments are considered wages that generally should be paid.

Can I be fired for making a wage claim?

No. Retaliation for asserting wage claims is unlawful. Your job is protected if you come forward with a valid good-faith claim.

You Deserve Fair Pay

At the Malk Law Firm, we have unmatched experience helping California workers recover their unpaid wages. Since 2007, we have successfully litigated individual and class action lawsuits under California’s complex wage and hour laws, securing millions of dollars in settlements for our clients. Our attorneys know these laws inside and out.

If you have not been paid properly by an employer in California, we have the experience to build a strong case on your behalf and either negotiate the maximum possible settlement or take the case to trial. We are intimately familiar with the full range of wage violations in this state, the varying industry standards, and the nuances that can increase settlement values. Our consultations are always free, and you will have no upfront legal fees.

Don’t wait to get the wages you deserve. Contact us now to set up a free case review focused on California unpaid wage claims.

Author Bio

Michael Malk is the Founder and Managing Attorney of Malk Law Firm, a Seattle employee rights law firm he started in 2007. With more than 20 years of experience practicing law, he has dedicated his career to representing clients throughout California and Washington in a wide range of legal areas, including unpaid wages, sexual harassment, discrimination, wrongful termination, and other employee rights matters.

Michael received his Juris Doctor from the University of California— Davis School of Law and is a member of the State Bar of California, the State Bar of Washington, and the American Bar Association. He has received numerous accolades for his work, including being named as one of the “Top Attorneys in Southern California” by Los Angeles Magazine in 2018 and being selected as a Super Lawyer for six consecutive years.

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