Wage theft is sadly a common occurrence in California. Employers owe tens of thousands of workers money in unpaid wages each year. Wage theft occurs when employers deliberately pay workers below the minimum wage, don't pay them overtime wages, fail to provide them with meal or rest breaks or attempt to shortchange them in other ways. According to CalMatters, in 2021 alone, California workers filed nearly 19,000 individual claims totaling more than $338 million in stolen wages.
Key Points - Table of Contents
- Take Action - Report Unpaid Wages
- How to Report Unpaid Wages
- When Should You Report Unpaid Wages
- Proving Wage Violations
- Keeping Track of What You Got Paid
- Getting Help for Unpaid Wages
Take Action - Report Unpaid Wages
You can report any employer who is committing wage theft, even if you don't work at that firm or company. However, it is important to remember that the Labor Commissioner's Office does not investigate each and every report of wage theft. They tend to prioritize those that involve widespread wage theft and affect a significant number of workers.
Once the investigation is completed, the Labor Commissioner's Office can issue citations, try to collect the wages that are due to workers and also work with the employer to correct any violations that have occurred. If you are the victim of wage theft, it is important that you file a wage claim in order to recover your unpaid wages.
For those wondering how long an employer has to pay unpaid wages, the answer is simple. In California, labor laws require employers to pay workers on time.
How to Report Unpaid Wages
Here are the steps to report your employer if you have unpaid wages due:
- Submit a report in person or by mail
- Download and complete the form
- Print it out and sign it
- Take the form to the Labor Commissioner's office that is located closest o you or mail the completed form to the office that handles investigations in your region.
- Be sure to include your name and contact information so the commissioner can contact you if they need more information for the investigation
- Please remember that your complaint will be kept confidential for as long as the law allows
When Should You Report Unpaid Wages
There are time limits for reporting unpaid wages and labor violations. If you are filing a report based on an oral agreement, the deadline to file is two years from the date of violation. If you are filing a report of a labor violation based on a written agreement, you have four years from the date of the violation to file your report. If you are reporting a minimum wage or overtime violation, you have three years from the date of violation to file.
Proving Wage Violations
Our California wage and hour attorneys recommend that workers maintain updated records of the hours they work in a calendar, notebook or cellphone. Keep these records in a location that is easily accessible such as your personal cell phone or home computer. When an investigation is initiated by a state or federal agency, a clear timeline of your hours worked as well as a record of any retaliatory actions against you or your coworkers can help move the investigation forward.
Write down as many details about your job as possible. For example log your start and end time each day, when you took meal or rest breaks and what days you got paid. Write down the names and titles of your supervisor, your hiring manager and the individual who sets your schedule.
It is also a good idea to document any time your employer denies you rest and meal breaks required under the law or when you are made to work more than eight hours in a work day or 40 hours a week without overtime pay. Never throw out your paystubs or other records that document your wages. You should keep these records for at least three years.
Keeping Track of What You Got Paid
It is important to keep track of any paperwork that documents your wages such as paystubs, contracts and agreements for piece rates. Under California law, your employer is required to give you an itemized wage statement that should include your name, the pay period dates, your wages, your employer's name, address and contact information. It should also include your federal and state tax deductions, paid sick and vacation leave you accrued, and other deductions such as Social Security and Medicare.
This is all information that can help you understand if you have received your due wages and could be extremely useful should you decide to file a wage claim. If your wages are paid in cash, be sure to note down how much you receive during each pay period. If you are paid by check, take a photo or scan the check. You are entitled under the law to see a copy of your wage statements even if your employer does not automatically provide them.
Getting Help for Unpaid Wages
You do not have to go through this process alone. If you believe that you are the victim of wage theft, there are several resources available to you. You could connect with a worker center in your industry where organizers can help you better understand your legal rights and options and offer support if you file a wage claim. You can file a claim with the California Labor Commissioner. You may also choose to take federal action and file a complaint online with the U.S. Department of Labor or one of their regional offices.
It would also be in your best interest to contact an experienced Los Angeles unpaid wages attorney who can help you hold your employer accountable with a wage and hour lawsuit. In cases where a large number of employees have been affected, you may also be able to file a class action lawsuit.
At Kingsley & Kingsley Lawyers, we have successfully helped employees seek justice and fair compensation. We work on a contingency fee basis, which means you don't have to pay us any fees until you collect damages in your case. Call us to schedule a no-cost consultation.