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How Much Can You Sue for Unpaid Wages?

Posted by Eric Kingsley | Feb 12, 2023 | 0 Comments

How Much Can You Sue For Unpaid Wages

Unpaid wages isn't something to take lightly.  If your employer is not paying you the right amount, or hasn't paid you at all, you may be able to file an unpaid wages lawsuit against your employer. You may be entitled to recover not just your unpaid wages, but also interest and penalties that are intended to punish your employer for breaking the law. An experienced California wage and hour lawyer will be able to guide you through the process.

Can I Claim Unpaid Wages?

You may have an unpaid wages claim if your employer has not paid you on time for work you have done. But, there are a number of different situations where you may actually be able to claim some or all of your unpaid wages. You can claim unpaid wages if you find yourself in the following circumstances:

  • If your employer fails to pay you the correct minimum wage or less than the minimum wage per hour
  • If your employer fails you pay overtime if you have worked overtime
  • Your employer does not pay you for each and every hour that you have worked
  • You are not allowed to have meal breaks or rest breaks during your workday as required by California law
  • You don't receive the bonuses or commissions you are supposed to get

How Much Can You Claim?

There are a number of different damages that could be added to your claim, which may include your regular pay, overtime pay and interest on unpaid wages. In order to recover the unpaid wages, the employee may either a file a civil lawsuit in court or file an administrative claim with the state's labor department. The amount of money you recover in an unpaid wages lawsuit against the employer is referred to as "damages," which could include the following:

  • You should be awarded the amount of wages that your employer did not pay you. This might include any overtime that you did not get paid. For example, if your employer only paid you your regular hourly rate for overtime hours worked and not time and a half, you should receive the difference between the regular hours you were paid and the overtime amount your employer should have paid you.
  • You can receive interest on unpaid wages – set at up to 10% in California. In some cases liquidated damages are paid. If your employer did not act in good faith and deliberately stole wages from you, they may be ordered to pay double damages as "liquidated" damages under federal law.
  • Under California laws, employers are also required to pay penalties to employees who are victims of wage theft in addition to the unpaid wages that are owed to workers. For example, California law required employers to pay a "waiting time penalty," which works out to be equal to 30 days of the employee's unpaid wages.
  • Workers may also be entitled to receive attorney's fees and other miscellaneous costs such as court fees.

Does Your Employer Owe You Unpaid Wages?

Employees have the right to fair compensation for their work. Unfortunately, instances of unpaid wages or wage theft can occur, leaving hardworking individuals feeling exploited and financially burdened.

If you find yourself in a situation where your employer has failed to pay you the wages you are owed, it's essential to understand your rights and take appropriate action. When it comes to unpaid wages there are a number of different labor violations that your employer might be in breach of.  Here are some of the most common labor law violations that lead to unpaid wages.

Minimum Wage Violations

Federal and state labor laws require employers to pay workers a minimum wage as well as overtime wages. California has a higher minimum wage and some cities and counties in California have a higher minimum wage that the state. In these cases, employers must pay the higher local rate. Overtime rates should be paid at time and a half or double depending on the number of hours worked.

In reviewing the history of minimum wage law it may become apparent that a prevailing wage is an important standard for wage and hour employees. It is illegal for employers in California not to pay their workers the minimum wage.

In 2023, the statewide minimum wage in California is $15.50 per hour. But, several cities and counties in the state have a higher minimum wage than the state minimum.

If you work in a city or county that has a higher minimum wage, your employer is required under the law to pay the higher amount.

Overtime Pay

Under California law, employers must pay non-exempt employees overtime pay if they work more than the maximum number of work hours. Non-exempt employees are entitled to overtime pay if they work more than eight hours in a single workday; more than 40 hours in a workweek; or more than six days in a single workweek. Employees who work additional hours are entitled to one-and-a-half times their regular hourly rate of pay.

Meal and Rest Breaks

Hourly employees are entitled to take meal and rest breaks. The law mandates a 30-minute meal break if employees work more than five hours in a day.

If you work over 10 in a day, you are entitled to a second 30-minute meal period. Rest breaks are also required for hourly employees who work three and a half or more hours in a day.

For every four hours worked employees are entitled to a 10-minute rest break. If an employer does not allow their employees to take these rest breaks or meal breaks, they must pay workers one hour's wages for each break that was denied.

Off-the-Clock Work

California employers are also prohibited from requiring employees to work "off the clock" without compensating them. Examples of off-the-clock work include requiring work before or after shifts or making employees work during a meal or rest break.

It is also unlawful to ask employees to be on-call when they are supposed to be off work. Such "off-the-clock" work must be compensated at the employee's hourly wage.

If the employee works off the clock in excess of the maximum number of work hours, he or she is eligible to receive overtime pay.

Misclassifying Workers

It is unlawful for employers to misclassify non-exempt or hourly employees as "exempt" in order to get out of paying them overtime or providing other benefits.

Non-exempt workers are those who are paid on a time, piece rate or commission. Exempt employees such as independent contractors, those in supervisorial or managerial roles and employees earning commissions, may not be subject to wage and hour laws.

An exempt employee is someone who spends more than half of his or her work time performing intellectual or managerial work and earn a monthly salary of at least twice the California minimum wage for full-time employment.

Filing an Unpaid Wages Lawsuit

When an employer violates California wage and hour laws, you may be able to recover the unpaid wages by filing a lawsuit against your employer. Often times, employers violate wage laws against a number of employees.

In such cases, a class action lawsuit might be a good option. In such cases, a group of employees who have unpaid wages due can band together and bring a class action lawsuit against their employer.

How Long Do You Have to File an Unpaid Wages Lawsuit?

The statute of limitations for California wage and hour lawsuit is three years from the date of the most recent violation. However, it is important to file a wage claim as soon as possible without which you could lose your right to claim any unpaid wages before the statute of limitations period.

A knowledgeable California employment lawyer can also help you secure additional penalties and damages that could substantially increase the value of your case.

How Much Money Will I get for an Unpaid Wages Lawsuit?

The damages available in an unpaid wages lawsuit in California depend on the type of labor code violation. For example, if your employer failed to pay you overtime wages, you may be able to recover back wages, interest on the unpaid wages as well as attorney's fees and court costs.

If your employer failed to provide rest breaks and meal breaks, you may be able to receive one hour's wages for each break you were not given. If your employer deliberately withdrew wages, you may receive double damages.

Can I Get Fired If I File an Unpaid Wages Lawsuit?

In California, employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who file an unpaid wages lawsuit. Doing so would amount to wrongful termination, which constitutes an additional cause of action against the employer.

Any type of retaliatory action including passing you up for a promotion, taking training opportunities away from you, demoting you or making adverse changes to your job will count as retaliation.

All forms of retaliation are illegal.

How Can You Get Help with Your Unpaid Wages Claim

There are several steps you can take to make sure you are protecting your rights. First, report your unpaid wages to your employer and see if you can correct the problem get them to pay your unpaid wages without filing a lawsuit. Keep your pay stubs or obtain copies of pay slips, which show the discrepancy between your hours worked and how much you should have been paid.

Talk to your co-workers and see if they will corroborate your account helping you prove your wage theft by comparing pay slips. Retain the services of an experienced unpaid wage lawyer who will help you with your wage theft claim.


Can I get fired if I bring a claim?

No, California law protects workers who bring unpaid wages lawsuits against retaliation. Your employer cannot retaliate against you by firing, demoting or taking any other adverse employment action against you.

What if I got underpaid by just a few dollars?

It's worth talking to a lawyer even if you were shortchanged by just a few dollars. One reason is you may find out later that you are owed much more or underpaid more than you thought. Also, in some cases, you stand to get double damages. In addition, your court costs and attorney's fees could get covered. This means that you can often get more than what you were owed and have your employer pay attorney's fees and court costs.

Is it worth talking to a lawyer?

Absolutely. At Kingsley & Kingsley Lawyers, we offer a free consultation and a no-win-no-fee guarantee. This means we don't get paid anything unless we recover compensation for you. Call us for a free consultation and comprehensive case evaluation.

Need Help Recovering Unpaid Wages?

The right to fair wages is a fundamental aspect of employment, and no employee should have to endure unpaid wages or wage theft. If you find yourself in a situation where your employer has failed to compensate you properly, take action to protect your rights.

Educate yourself about labor laws, gather supporting documentation, and attempt to resolve the issue with your employer directly. If necessary, file a wage claim and, if appropriate, seek legal counsel to guide you through the process. Remember, fighting for your unpaid wages is not just about your financial well-being; it sets a precedent for fair treatment and justice in the workplace for all employees.

If your employer has violated wage and hour laws, please remember that you have legal recourse. Our wage and hour attorneys at Kingsley & Kingsley Lawyers, we will put our extensive experience and knowledge of wage and hour laws to full use.

We will help evaluate your case and determine whether you have a valid claim. We will fight hard for your rights and help you secure the unpaid wages you are owed. Call us at (818) 990-8300 for a free and comprehensive consultation.

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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