The Legal Challenges to Wage and Compensation Claims in California

by Staff Blogger | May 6th, 2024

As part of California’s workforce, you are entitled to fair compensation for hours worked, including regular wages, overtime pay, and benefits. The state has established wage laws to protect worker rights, including minimum wage standards and overtime pay.

However, some employers try to get around these rules by underreporting hours and denying overtime pay. A recent report found that workers filed nearly 30,000 wage violation claims annually with the state, totaling more than $320 million in 2017.

Understanding your rights and the wage claims process can help you receive fair compensation if your employer violates the law.

Intro to Wage and Compensation Claims

The state’s wage laws, found in the California Labor Code, Fair Labor Standards Act, and California Wage Theft Protection Act, help ensure employees receive fair pay for their work. The following are some standard regulations employers must follow:

  • Minimum Wage Enforcement: Workers must be paid the minimum wage set by California law, which is higher than the federal minimum wage and adjusts annually based on inflation. On January 1, 2024, the state raised the minimum to $16 per hour.
  • Overtime Compensation: Employees earn 1.5 times their regular pay rate for hours worked over eight per day or 40 per week and double pay for hours over 12 per day.
  • Unpaid Wage Recovery: Workers can file claims for wages not paid within the required timeframe, including final paychecks due immediately upon termination or within 72 hours if an employee quits without notice.
  • Meal and Rest Breaks: Workers have the right to a 30-minute meal break when their shift exceeds 5 hours and a 10-minute pause every 4 hours. This provision guarantees employees adequate downtime for meals and relaxation while at work.

If your employer violates these laws, you can file a claim with the Labor Commissioner’s Office seeking payment. This can include unpaid wages or overtime and waiting time penalties for late final paychecks. The waiting time penalty can amount to a full day’s wages for each day the final paycheck is delayed, up to a maximum of 30 days.

Common Legal Challenges

While filing your wage claim is a straightforward process that involves completing a claim form, submitting documentation of hours worked and wages owed, and attending a hearing (if necessary), some challenges can delay resolution and payment.

These include misclassifying your employee status, wage disputes, and employer retaliation. The following offers a closer look at the legal challenges you might face when filing your claim:

ChallengeDescriptionLaw ViolationExample
Misclassification of Employee StatusEmployers may classify workers as independent contractors instead of employees, wrongly exempting them from minimum wage, overtime, and benefits.California Labor Code Section 226.8You’re a delivery driver treated like an employee with set hours and duties, but your employer classifies you as an independent contractor, saying you’re ineligible for overtime. You file a claim to challenge this misclassification and fight for your overtime pay.
Disputes Over Wages or Hours WorkedDisagreements between employees and employers about the actual hours worked or the appropriate pay rate can lead to claims being contested.California Labor Code Section 510In a real-world scenario, a major poultry company faced a $1.47 million settlement for underpaying workers. This case involved more than 300 workers who were unpaid for overtime or rest breaks and earned less than minimum wage. They had to fight these disputes to receive fair payment.
Employer RetaliationSome employers may retaliate against employees who file wage claims with illegal actions such as firing, demotion, or cutting hours.California Labor Code Section 98.6You file a claim against your employer for not paying you minimum wage. In retaliation, your employer schedules you for fewer shifts, reducing your hours and earnings. You can file a retaliation complaint for this violation with the Labor Commissioner’s Office.

Government Agencies and Resources at Your Disposal

If you’re facing a wage violation, the California Labor Commissioner’s Office and the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement can offer guidance and resources on your rights and how to file a claim. They enforce wage laws in the Golden State, investigate workplace violations, and uphold fair labor practices.

When filing a claim, follow these steps:

  • Gather Necessary Documentation: You’ll need detailed documentation for a successful wage claim. Keep accurate records of your work hours, covering when you start and end each day and any meal and rest breaks. Your pay stubs should list your wages, the pay period, employer contact information, and any deductions.
  • Understand the Filing Time Frame: File within the correct period, depending on the violation type. This is within one year for bounced checks or payroll record issues, two years for oral wage promises, three years for minimum wage or overtime issues, and four years for written contract violations.
  • Attend Your Settlement Conference: A settlement conference might be arranged after filing, where you can try to resolve the dispute with your employer before it moves to a hearing.
  • Prepare for the Wage Claim Hearing: A hearing will be scheduled if your claim remains unresolved after the conference. Be prepared to present all your evidence and clearly articulate your case to the hearing officer, who will decide your claim.
  • Consult a Wage Law Attorney: For legal guidance, consult an attorney specializing in wage law. Our team at Berg Injury Lawyers can offer advice and help you collect the necessary documentation for your claim. We can also represent you during settlement conferences or hearings, increasing the likelihood of a favorable outcome.

Work With Berg Injury Lawyers to Get What You Deserve

At Berg Injury Lawyers, we stand up for workers’ rights in California. If your employer has failed to pay you what you’re owed or retaliated against you for filing a claim, we can help protect your interests.

Contact us today for a free consultation and pursue the wages you’re owed under California law.