Wage theft occurs when employers fail to pay employees the full wages to which they are legally entitled. This is a widespread and deep-rooted issue not only in California but also around the country, which causes serious harm to millions of workers each year. It is not just unethical for employers to not pay their workers the wages they worked hard for, but it is also illegal.
Wage theft harms workers and their families. Many low-income families who suffer wage theft and loss of income as a result of that are forced to rely on public assistance programs like food stamps and Medi-Cal. It is illegal for your employer to withhold your wages. But employers often get away with wage theft because workers are often pressured not to speak up about it for fear of employer retaliation and wrongfully losing their jobs.
Table of Contents
- How Do I Know If My Employer is Committing Wage Theft?
- Common Examples of Wage Theft To Be Aware Of
- Understanding Prevailing Wages
- Burden on Immigrant Workers
- Signs That Your Employer is Stealing Your Wages
- Actions to Take If You Are a Victim of Wage Theft
- Steps to Take to Recover Unpaid Wages
- We Can Explain All of Your Rights Under the Law
How Do I Know If My Employer is Committing Wage Theft?
The experienced Los Angeles employment attorneys Kingsley and Kingsley Employment Lawyers are passionate about the pursuit of justice for workers who have had their wages stolen by their employers. While it may seem unimaginable that an employer might steal their employees' wages, sadly, it is something that happens in California on a daily basis. Wage theft is defined as the act of failing to pay wages or providing employees with benefits that are rightfully owed to them under the law or by contract.
Employers must pay workers wages due under the law. Wage theft tends to affect those who work minimum wage jobs the most. Wage theft is rampant in California. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, minimum wage violations in California alone occur approximately 372,000 times each week. When employers fail to compensate workers for overtime, off-the-clock work or fail to give them meal breaks or rest breaks required under California law, those are wage violations as well. If you believe your employer is not paying you wages due, call our wage and hour attorneys to find out more information about pursuing your legal rights.
Common Examples of Wage Theft To Be Aware Of
Wage theft can take many forms, including:
- Minimum Wage Violations: All employers are required to pay California's minimum wage, which is $14 an hour for businesses with more than 26 employees and $13 for those with fewer employees. If your city or county has a higher minimum wage rate than the state, then your employer is required to pay you the higher rate.
- Failure to Pay Overtime: Your employer must pay you overtime wages for any duration that is over 40 hours in a consecutive seven-day period. You are entitled to one-and-a-half times your pay for overtime hours.
- Working Off the Clock: Employers cannot require their employees to work through a lunch break or require them to come in and work on a day off or a weekend without pay. If you work, you are entitled to be paid for that time.
- Illegal Withholding: It is illegal for employers to make paycheck deductions for the cost of meals, lodging, uniforms, or other expenses.
- Worker Misclassification: We often run into employers who misclassify their workers as independent contractors when they are actually doing the job of a full-time employee. Employers do this in order to avoid paying workers sick pay, vacation hours, and other benefits such as medical, dental, and vision coverage that full-time employees typically receive.
Understanding Prevailing Wages
We have represented workers on prevailing wage jobs on construction and public works jobs where employees are owed a much higher wage per hour. For example, while a laborer might typically earn $14 or $15 an hour, on certain worksites such as those involving government construction projects, the hourly wage rate is much higher.
These wages are known as "prevailing wages" and could be as much as three or four times the laborer's normal wage. In these situations, an employer might try to cut corners by underreporting hours. So, there may be unjust situations where a worker might have worked for 30 hours, but might only get paid for 10 hours.
Burden on Immigrant Workers
It is an unfortunate fact that employers often exploit recent immigrants or those who have trouble communicating in English. Under California law, wage theft is not permitted under any circumstances. Workers whose immigration status is in question often tend to be affected because they may be afraid or hesitant to challenge their employers.
What is important to recognize is the fact that everyone who works in California has a right to earn wages for work that has been performed. The law offers these protections to workers. If you have been subjected to wage theft, it is imperative that you contact an experienced Los Angeles employment lawyer. If you or a family member is not comfortable speaking in English, our law offices can help you to bring your claim and fight for justice.
Signs That Your Employer is Stealing Your Wages
Here are some signs that you may be a victim of wage theft:
- Your paycheck doesn't have the right amount, even after you've questioned your employer about it
- Receiving a wage that is lower than the minimum wage
- You don't consistently get a meal break or are asked to continue working even after your workday has ended
- You have been classified as an "hourly" worker, but don't get overtime pay even when you've worked overtime
- Your employer has misclassified you as a supervisor (exempt employee) or as a contract worker and you don't get the same benefits as employees do such as sick time, vacation pay, health insurance, etc.
- Your paycheck has unauthorized deductions
- You have not been reimbursed for work-related expenses such as travel or equipment
- Your employer doesn't pay your final paycheck after you have quit or have been laid off
Actions to Take If You Are a Victim of Wage Theft
If you suspect that you have not been compensated properly for your work, the first step is to raise the issue with your employer. If it was a one-time mistake or a technical glitch, it gives your employer an opportunity to correct the issue. If the issue is not resolved or if your employer or supervisor ignores your concerns, talk to the human resources department, if your company has one.
Maintain a log of instances where you suspect wage theft has occurred and keep a record of all communications with your employer. Make sure you keep copies of all documents in a place other than work. It may also be in you best interest to contact an experienced Los Angeles wage and hour lawyer early on in the process so they can advise you about the steps you need to take to protect your rights and how to move forward with your wage lawsuit.
Steps to Take to Recover Unpaid Wages
If you suspect or know that your employer is illegally withholding wages from you, there are a number of steps you can take to protect your rights as an employee:
- Secure Detailed Information: You have every right to ask your employer for a detailed breakdown of the money you're being paid including reimbursements and commissions. If this information is not being provided and you have questions about your paycheck, you can ask for a detailed account of how your employer is calculating your pay. If your employer refuses to provide that information, document it. If the refusal was in writing, be sure to save the document.
- Document Everything: Once you become aware of the problem of illegal withholding, be sure to document all your earnings and the amount you were actually paid. It would also be a good idea to document all conversations you have with your supervisor and other parties such as human resources about the unpaid amount.
- Talk to Human Resources Personnel: It is the job of the human resources department to resolve any issues with pay discrepancies. Show the documentation you have about how much you earned and how much you got paid.
- File a Wage Claim: You might be able to file a claim against the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE), which has the power to investigate and hold a hearing on employee complaints about the violation of labor laws including unpaid wages.
- File an Unpaid Wages Lawsuit: An experienced Los Angeles employment lawyer can help you file an unpaid wages lawsuit through which you might be able to collect back wages, attorney's fees, and court costs among other damages. If your employer's violation of California labor laws was deliberate, you might be able to receive double damages.
We Can Explain All of Your Rights Under the Law
It is important to understand that your employer cannot retaliate against you for exercising your rights under California's wage and hour laws. The employer cannot take any type of retaliatory action, including firing or laying you off just because you filed a wage claim or an unpaid wages lawsuit. This could be considered wrongful termination.
If you believe your employer withheld wages or failed to pay you for work done, it is imperative that you contact an experienced Los Angeles unpaid wages lawyer who will fight for your rights and help ensure that you are compensated for your losses.
Our team specializes in employment law in California. We have the knowledge and unique insight it takes to protect your rights and give you an advantage against employers who break the law. Our attorneys are reputed for their work in this field in addition to have a successful track record of helping clients receive significant verdicts and settlements for wage and hour claims.
Our law firm also represents clients on a contingency fee basis, which means we don't charge you any fees unless we have secured compensation for you. Call us at (818) 452-0948 for a free consultation and case evaluation.