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Average Settlement for Unpaid Wages in California

Posted by Eric Kingsley | May 21, 2024 | 0 Comments

If you're a victim of wage theft in California, you're not alone. It happens more often than you'd think. Maybe your boss "forgot" to pay you overtime, or they shaved a few hours off your timesheet. Whatever the case, it's not right - and you deserve to be paid what you're owed.

Unpaid wage settlement on laptop

So, what's the average settlement for unpaid wages in California? Well, it depends on a few things. But don't worry, we'll break it down for you. When we're done here, navigating the waters of personal finance won't seem so tricky—you'll know exactly how to protect what's yours.

Table of Contents:

Average Settlement for Unpaid Wages in California

Severity of Unpaid Wage Claim

Average Unpaid Wage Settlement Received


Between $6,000 and $300,000


Between $300,000 and $500,000


Between $500,000 and $3,000,000+

Understanding Wage Theft and Unpaid Wages in California

If you've ever been a victim of wage theft, you know how frustrating and demoralizing it can be. You work hard for your money, only to have your employer short-change you on your paycheck. It's not right, and it's not legal. In California, wage theft is a serious problem. A study by the Economic Policy Institute found that California workers lose nearly $2 billion per year to minimum wage violations alone. That's not even counting all the other forms of wage theft, like unpaid overtime, meal and rest break violations, and off-the-clock work.

What Constitutes Wage Theft?

Wage theft can take many forms, but some of the most common include: - Not paying the minimum wage - Not paying overtime - Requiring off-the-clock work - Not providing meal or rest breaks - Not reimbursing for business expenses - Misclassifying employees as independent contractors If your employer has done any of these things to you, you may be a victim of wage theft. And you're not alone. A study by the UCLA Labor Center found that nearly 1 in 5 low-wage workers in California experience minimum wage violations each week.

Common Wage Violations in California

In my experience as an employment lawyer, I've seen all sorts of wage violations. Some of the most common include: - Paying less than the minimum wage, which is currently $15 per hour for employers with 26 or more employees and $14 per hour for employers with 25 or fewer employees - Not paying overtime, which is required for any hours worked over 8 in a day or 40 in a week - Requiring employees to work through their meal or rest breaks - Not paying for all hours worked, including time spent putting on uniforms or safety gear, attending mandatory meetings, or working off-the-clock These violations can add up quickly. A study by the National Employment Law Project found that the average low-wage worker in California loses $3,400 per year to wage theft. That's nearly a quarter of their annual earnings.

The Legal Framework for Wage Claims in California

If you've been a victim of wage theft, you have options. California has some of the strongest wage and hour laws in the country, and there are several ways to pursue a claim for unpaid wages.

Filing a Wage Claim with the Labor Commissioner's Office

One option is to file a wage claim with the California Labor Commissioner's Office. This is a relatively quick and easy process, and you don't need a lawyer to do it. You can file a claim online, by mail, or in person at a local Labor Commissioner's Office. Once you file a claim, the Labor Commissioner's Office will investigate and try to resolve the dispute informally. If that doesn't work, they may hold a hearing and issue a decision. If your employer still doesn't pay, the Labor Commissioner's Office can help you collect the money you're owed.

Protections Against Retaliation

It's important to know that you have protections against retaliation for filing a wage claim or asserting your rights under California's wage and hour laws. Your employer cannot fire you, demote you, or take any other adverse action against you for filing a claim or complaining about wage violations. If your employer does retaliate against you, you may have a separate claim for retaliation. Under California law, you can sue your employer for lost wages, benefits, and other damages if they retaliate against you for asserting your rights.

The Impact of Class Action Lawsuits on Wage Violations

In some cases, wage theft is a systemic problem that affects many workers at a company. In these situations, a class action lawsuit may be the best way to address the issue and recover unpaid wages for all affected workers. Class action lawsuits can be a powerful tool for holding employers accountable and recovering significant amounts of money for workers. For example: - In 2021, a class action lawsuit against a California oil refinery resulted in a $15.25 million settlement for hourly shift workers who were not paid for time spent on required pre-shift activities. - In 2020, a class action lawsuit against a national retail chain resulted in a $3.2 million settlement for workers who were not paid for time spent in mandatory security checks. These are just a few examples of the many successful class action lawsuits that have been brought against employers for wage violations in California.

Compensation Types for Victims of Unpaid Wages

If you're a victim of unpaid wages in California, you may be entitled to several types of compensation, including: - Back pay for the wages you should have been paid - Interest on the unpaid wages - Liquidated damages (an additional amount equal to the unpaid wages) - Waiting time penalties if your employer fails to pay you all wages owed at the time of termination - Attorney's fees and costs if you have to file a lawsuit to recover your unpaid wages The specific types and amounts of compensation you may be entitled to will depend on the facts of your case. An experienced employment lawyer can evaluate your case and advise you on what you may be able to recover.

Proving Wage and Hour Violations in California

To recover unpaid wages in California, you'll need to prove that your employer violated wage and hour laws. This can be done through various types of evidence, such as: - Pay stubs or wage statements showing the hours you worked and the pay you received - Time records or clock-in/clock-out data - Witness testimony from co-workers or supervisors - Emails or other written communications about your work hours or pay - Company policies or handbooks that show the employer's practices The more evidence you have to support your claim, the stronger your case will be. An experienced unpaid wage lawyer can help you gather and present the evidence needed to prove your case.

The Role of Legal Representation in Wage Disputes

While you don't necessarily need a lawyer to file a wage claim or pursue a case for unpaid wages, having legal representation can make a big difference in the outcome of your case. An experienced employment lawyer can: - Evaluate your case and advise you on your legal rights and options - Gather evidence to support your claim - Negotiate with your employer to try to reach a settlement - Represent you in court if necessary - Advocate for your rights and interests throughout the legal process Studies have shown that employees who have legal representation in wage and hour cases are more likely to win their case and recover more money than those who don't. 

Understanding Exemptions and Limitations in Wage Claims

It's important to understand that not all employees are entitled to the same wage and hour protections under California law. Some employees are exempt from certain requirements, such as overtime pay or meal and rest breaks, based on their job duties and compensation. For example, employees who are classified as "exempt" under California law (such as certain executive, administrative, and professional employees) are not entitled to overtime pay or meal and rest breaks. Similarly, independent contractors are not entitled to many of the same protections as employees. If you're not sure whether you're entitled to certain wage and hour protections, an experienced employment lawyer can evaluate your situation and advise you on your rights.

Statute of Limitations for Filing Wage Claims in California

If you're considering filing a wage claim or lawsuit for unpaid wages in California, it's important to act quickly. There are strict deadlines, known as statutes of limitations, for filing these types of claims. In general, the statute of limitations for filing a wage claim with the California Labor Commissioner's Office is: - Three years for most types of wage claims, such as unpaid overtime or minimum wage violations - One year for certain types of penalties, such as waiting time penalties for failure to pay all wages owed at the time of termination If you miss the deadline for filing a claim, you may lose your right to recover unpaid wages and other damages. An experienced employment lawyer can advise you on the specific deadlines that apply to your case and help ensure that your claim is filed on time.

How Settlement Amounts are Determined in Wage Violation Cases

If you file a wage claim or lawsuit for unpaid wages in California, the amount of money you may be able to recover will depend on various factors, such as: - The amount of unpaid wages you're owed - The length of time over which the violations occurred - Whether your employer acted willfully or in good faith - Whether you're entitled to additional damages or penalties, such as liquidated damages or waiting time penalties - The strength of your evidence and legal arguments In some cases, employers may be willing to settle wage claims or lawsuits to avoid the time, expense, and uncertainty of litigation. Settlement amounts can vary widely depending on the specific facts and circumstances of each case. An experienced employment lawyer can evaluate your case and give you an idea of what you may be able to recover through a settlement or court judgment. They can also negotiate with your employer to try to reach a fair settlement on your behalf.

Key Takeaway: 

Wage theft in California is a big deal, costing workers billions. It comes in many forms like unpaid overtime and missing breaks. Luckily, Cali has strong laws to fight back. You can file a claim yourself or maybe join a class action for bigger impact. There's good money to be won if you've been shorted, including back pay and penalties. And yes, having a lawyer often means better results.

Free Unpaid Wage Case Evaluation

So, what's the bottom line? The average settlement for unpaid wages in California can vary widely depending on your specific situation. But one thing's for sure - you shouldn't let your employer get away with wage theft.

Stand up for your rights, gather your evidence, and don't be afraid to seek legal help if you need it. With a little persistence and know-how, you can get the compensation you deserve. Remember, your work has value. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. 

For those who are having issues with their wages, we're here to help. We've helped employees in California recover over $300 million in compensation, and work exclusively with employees in employment law related cases. Give us a call our fill out our form to receive help today.

About the Author

Eric Kingsley

Eric B. Kingsley is a 2023 "Best In Law" Award winner and has litigated over 150 class actions. He is also an AV peer rated attorney and a prolific speaker at various seminars on employment law.


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