Unpaid wages refer to money that is owed to employees by employers for work done. Unpaid wages could be due to employees when employers fail to pay overtime wages, when they don't meet minimum wage requirements or when employers misclassify employees in order to avoid paying them overtime wages and other benefits.
When you don't receive wages that are due, the first step to take is to bring it to your employer's attention. If it was oversight and the situation is corrected, you may not need to take further action. However, if you were in fact a victim of wage theft or unlawful deductions, it is important that you understand your legal rights and options. Victims of unpaid wages are encouraged to read our employees guide on unpaid wage lawsuits in California, or to schedule your free consultation with an unpaid wages attorney at Kingsley & Kingsley Lawyers.
Key Points - Table of Contents
- Does Your Employer Owe You Unpaid Wages?
- Minimum Wage Violations
- Filing an Unpaid Wages Lawsuit
- How Long Do You Have to File an Unpaid Wages Lawsuit?
- How Much Money Will I get for an Unpaid Wages Lawsuit?
- Can I Get Fired If I File an Unpaid Wages Lawsuit?
- Need Help Recovering Unpaid Wages?
Does Your Employer Owe You Unpaid Wages?
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Need Help Recovering Unpaid Wages?
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) 452-0948 for a free and comprehensive consultation.