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 retaliation and losing their jobs.
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.
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.
Call Kingsley & Kingsley at (818) 239-7030 or contact us online to request a free consultation and comprehensive case evaluation.