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How to File an Unpaid Wages Claim

Posted by Eric Kingsley | Oct 01, 2023 | 0 Comments

Ever felt the sting of a paycheck lighter than it should be? Maybe you've glanced at your bank account, only to feel that pang of injustice. Your heart drops because those hard-earned dollars aren't there.

You're not alone in this fight against wage theft - countless others have been right where you are now. But how do we fix this?

How to file an unpaid wages claim - sounds complicated, doesn't it? Yet understanding the process can become your key to unlocking justice and fair compensation for your labor.

This post assists with not just knowledge but power - the power to stand up for yourself when no one else will. It's packed with practical advice on navigating overtime requirements, engaging with labor commissioner's offices, even knowing when attorney fees might come into play.  

For those who are currently victims of unpaid wages, be sure to also read our article on how much you can sue for unpaid wages.

Table Of Contents:

Understanding Wage Theft and Unpaid Wages

Beneath the surface of seemingly forgotten paychecks lies a wide array of devious techniques employed by employers to avoid paying rightful wages. It's not just about forgetting to hand out paychecks, but also includes a variety of underhanded tactics employers use to skimp on rightful earnings.

Defining Unpaid Wages

An unpaid wage, as defined by the California Labor Laws, isn't simply an overlooked paycheck. This term encompasses wages owed for work performed before or after scheduled shifts, during lunch breaks, or even rest breaks.

Consider this scenario: your employer asks you to start prepping for the day 15 minutes before your shift officially starts without additional compensation - that's unpaid wages right there. Or perhaps they need you around post-shift for clean-up duties? Again, if it's off-the-clock work without fair payment - we're talking about unpaid wages.

Sadly though, many employees are oblivious to these labor law violations happening in their own workplaces. However, as much as it seems like a small change at first glance; over time these amounts can add up significantly affecting one's overall income. As an employee, it is important that you take action against any unpaid wage violations. The time you have to file for unpaid wages is limited.

Wage Theft in Overtime Scenarios

Overtime laws play a vital role when discussing wage theft and unpaid wages too. Both federal law and overtime requirements laid down by state-specific bodies such as Kentucky Law dictate how workers should be compensated beyond regular hours.

A crucial part of understanding this lies within grasping what constitutes 'overtime'. By definition, any hour worked beyond the standard 40-hour week falls into this category under Federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The Act further mandates that nonexempt employees be paid at least one-and-a-half times their regular hourly wage for these extra hours.

Key Takeaway: 

Wage theft isn't just about unpaid paychecks. It's also sneaky strategies that dodge rightful payment for work done outside normal hours or during breaks. Unpaid wages can creep up on you, having a big impact on your income over time. Getting to grips with overtime laws is crucial too, because if you're working more than the usual 40-hour week without proper compensation, that's wage theft.

Legal Rights and Protections Against Wage Theft

If you've ever worked a minute past your scheduled shift without pay, you're already familiar with wage theft. But did you know that federal and state laws are on your side? They offer protection against this unfair practice.

Federal Law on Overtime Pay

The FLSA is the champion of wage laws, safeguarding employees from any industry against being paid less than their due for hours worked over 40 in a week. It insists that nonexempt employees get paid at least one-and-a-half times their regular hourly wage for every hour they work over 40 in a week. This law doesn't play favorites - it applies to all industries, from retail stores to motor carriers involved in distributing merchandise.

You might ask yourself what counts as 'nonexempt'. Good question. Essentially, it means workers who aren't exempt from FLSA rules – those who must be paid overtime rates regardless of how they're classified by employers. Click here to learn more about employee exemptions.

California Labor Laws on Overtime Pay

In sunny California though, labor laws add an extra layer of sunscreen to protect workers' rights further. Here's why: Not only does the golden state demand overtime payment for anything beyond a 40-hour workweek; it also requires employers to cough up time-and-a-half if an employee works over eight hours in one day or seven consecutive days in any workweek.

But wait - there's more. Double-time needs paying out if someone puts in over twelve hours during any single day or clocks above eight hours on their seventh consecutive working day.

Click here to dive deeper into California's overtime laws.

Also, let's discuss rest breaks. Suppose you're clocking in over 3.5 hours daily at a retail store, handling sales tasks. In that case, your boss has to give you paid 10-minute break periods for every four hours worked or the majority part of it as stated by the Industrial Welfare Commission (IWC) Wage Orders.

Key Takeaway: 

Wage theft isn't just unfair - it's illegal. Thanks to laws like the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act, workers are guaranteed overtime pay for anything over a 40-hour workweek. And in California? The protections get even stronger. From extra time-and-a-half payments for long days to mandatory break periods, your rights as an employee are seriously safeguarded.

Filing a Wage Claim for Unpaid Wages

When confronting unpaid wages, it's imperative to act without delay. You have the right to receive payment for your work.

Initiating the Wage Claim Process

The first step in filing an unpaid wage claim is reaching out to your company's human resources department. You will want to report unpaid wages as soon as possible. If the issue isn't resolved by HR, contact California's Labor Commissioner's Office.

If this doesn't work, or if you're uncomfortable approaching HR, reach out directly to California's Labor Commissioner's Office (also known as DLSE). They handle all kinds of wage claims from unpaid overtime, rest breaks violations, minimum wage issues up until sales activities discrepancies.

You'll need form DLSE-1 (Initial Report or Claim) which can be obtained online from their website. Fill this form thoroughly but accurately because any error might delay your claim process. 

Addressing Discrimination in Wage Claims

In some cases, employees face discrimination when claiming unpaid wages. If you feel that you are being discriminated against due to race, color religion or sex while pursuing your rightful paycheck - don't hesitate. Reach out immediately to Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). 

Before submitting anything though make sure:

  • Your completed DLSE-1 Form contains detailed information on each incident where payment was withheld.
  • You've attached any supporting documents, such as pay stubs or emails that back up your claim.
  • You've clearly mentioned if you believe discrimination was a factor in the wage violation.

Don't forget to duplicate all your documents for safekeeping. When you're set, send the form and any attached files to the DLSE office nearest your workplace.

Legal Recourse for Unpaid Wages

If you've worked hard but your paycheck isn't reflecting it, know that California law has got your back. As an employee, there are a number of steps you can take, including legal actions in order to receive an unpaid wage settlement. Let's talk about some legal options to get the money you rightfully earned.

The Power of Labor Commissioner's Office

In California, if an employer is playing games with your paychecks or rest breaks, the Labor Commissioner's Office steps in as a heavyweight champion. They're like a superhero team protecting workers from wage theft.

This office can help employees file claims and fight for unpaid wages. But remember. It's not just about hourly wage disputes; they also cover issues like unpaid overtime requirements or withheld sick leave – even violations related to retail stores engaged in sales activities.

Filing A Wage Claim: The Nuts and Bolts

To start claiming what you are owed, you need to fill out a claim form provided by the Labor Standards Enforcement division. This might sound intimidating - images of dusty courtrooms and gavel-banging judges might be popping into your head right now - but don't worry. Most cases are settled without having to step foot inside a superior court.

Your case will first go before a hearing officer who acts kind of like Judge Judy - listening to both sides and making sure justice prevails.

Labor Lawsuits: When Things Get Serious

Sometimes though, things do escalate beyond filling forms and attending hearings at labor commissioner's office. If all else fails (or if we're talking big bucks), filing lawsuits against employers under federal fair labor laws is another way to recover unpaid wages.

Not everyone will need to tread this path. An attorney can be a key factor in ensuring that you receive what is rightfully yours. Don't forget - this battle isn't only about cash; it's also about carving out the norm for fair play at work.

Key Takeaway: 

Don't ignore unpaid wages. The Labor Commissioner's Office in California is your ally against wage theft, handling everything from hourly disagreements to denied sick leave. You'll need to complete a claim form and possibly participate in a hearing - no intimidating courtrooms here. If things escalate, think about launching lawsuits under federal fair labor laws with an attorney's help. 

FAQs in Relation to How to File an Unpaid Wages Claim

How do I write a letter for unpaid wages?

To pen an unpaid wages letter, clearly state your name, job title, the hours you've worked and haven't been paid for. Be concise but thorough in explaining your situation.

What happens if you don't get paid on payday?

If payday passes without payment, reach out to HR or management first. If that doesn't work, consider filing a wage claim with your state's labor board.

Getting Help For An Unpaid Wage Attorney

So, you've learned the ropes on how to file an unpaid wages claim. You're now armed with knowledge about wage theft and its impact on your earnings.

Problem is, many times an experienced unpaid wage lawyer is the best way to handle the situation. The unpaid wage attorneys at our firm, Kingsley & Kingsley Lawyers, have helped thousands of employees receive compensation, and do so on no win, no fee basis.

In this fight against wage theft, understanding is power - the power to secure your hard-earned money and stand up for yourself when necessary. Kingsley & Kingsley Lawyers is here to be your voice for justice, and help you obtain maximum compensation for the difficulties you've been forced to endure.

If you're serious about securing your earnings, call today for a free consultation with a knowledgeable Los Angeles unpaid wage attorney.

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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