Workers in California can file a wage claim against their employer for failing to pay them the wages or benefits they are owed. Filing a wage claim is the first step in collecting wages and benefits from an employer. In California, all employees are protected by the state’s labor laws regardless of their immigration status.

Filing a Wage Claim

When an employee files a wage claim, it is the responsibility of the California Labor Commissioner’s Office to conduct an investigation that will determine if any wages or benefits are owed. In most cases, a conference is scheduled between the employer and the employee to resolve the issue and reach a settlement. If a settlement is not reached at this conference, a hearing will be scheduled with a hearing officer, who is then responsible for deciding the outcome of the claim. However, the California Labor Commissioner’s Office has no authority over your wage claim if an independent contractor employs you.

When To File a Wage Claim

Filing a wage claim in response to wage theft is an action that should be taken in a timely manner to ensure a fair chance and compensation. Under the California Statute of Limitations, wage claims must be filed under the following parameters:

  • If you are filing a wage claim due to a bounced check or in response to the lack of access to payroll and personal information, the claim must be filed within one year.
  • If you are filing in response to an oral agreement promising a pay rate higher than the state minimum wage, the claim must be filed within two years.
  • In instances where a violation of one of the following occurs, a claim must be filed within three years:
    • Minimum wage
    • Overtime policies
    • Unpaid rest and meal breaks
    • Sick leave
    • Illegal deductions from pay, or
    • Unpaid reimbursements
  • If a wage claim is being filed in response to the employer’s failure to abide by a written agreement, the claim must be filed within four years.

An employee’s failure to file their claim within the specified time frames risks invalidating their legal right to receive compensation.

What information do you need to file a wage claim?

Filing your wage claim on time is not the only important part of ensuring your wage claim is successful. To file a complete wage claim, the employee must gather the following types of information:

  • Information on the employer. For the Labor Commissioner’s Office to investigate your wage claim, they must be able to identify your employer.
  • Information identifying other responsible parties. In some instances, managers or supervisors responsible for withholding wages, or violating workers’ rights, can be held accountable in your wage claim.
  • A complete record of the employee’s total hours worked.
  • All of the employee’s pay stubs or itemized wage statements

An employee filing a wage claim should be prepared to provide the Labor Commissioner’s Office with all of the above information to better support their claim and its investigation.

Federal Law requires that all employers keep a reliable record of all hours worked by their employees. Regardless, employees filing a wage claim should keep a personal record of their time worked, including start and stop times for meal breaks. Providing the Labor Commission’s Office with both documentation allows them a better opportunity to investigate your case.

Acquiring your unpaid wages

Once you’ve acquired all the necessary information and formally filed your case, the next step in the process of recuperating your unpaid wages is the claim. Because this stage requires proper documentation and filing, it is advisable to seek out the help of an attorney to develop a strategy specific to your case.

California Late Paycheck Penalty

In California, the penalties for unpaid wages vary based on several different factors. Most often, the next step in the wage claim process is a mediation conference. Once it has been decided, your employer and lawyer will be notified of the conference’s date by mail. It is crucial to the success of your case that both you and your employer are present on the date of the conference.

  • If you fail to be present at the conference without a reasonable excuse for your absence, your argument will be automatically rejected.
  • If your employer fails to be present at the conference, your grievance will be taken to trial.

Alongside you and your employer, a deputy labor commissioner will be present at the mediation conference. A deputy labor commissioner is an individual employed by the California Labor Commissioner’s Office responsible for facilitating your unpaid wages case. During the mediation conference, it is the responsibility of the deputy labor commissioner to assist you and your employer in reaching a mutually agreed upon mediation agreement to settle your unpaid wages case. During this process, you will have the opportunity to meet with the deputy labor commissioner privately to discuss negotiations.

Reaching an agreement in mediation

A settlement is a legal agreement reached between both parties to resolve a wage allegation. The settlement occurs when your employer offers to pay you a certain amount to determine your wage claim, and you as the employee agree. A settlement can be reached at any time during the wage claim process.

Accepting a settlement from your employer is a significant decision in your wage claim process. Before agreeing to accept a settlement it is highly recommended that you consult with your licensed attorney and consider the following questions:

  • Why should you consider a settlement offer? While accepting a settlement is a quick resolution to your unpaid wages cases, it is not always guaranteed. When accepting a settlement from your employer, you risk losing the financial compensation if your employer should close their business or file for bankruptcy before your settlement is paid.
  • Why should you reject a settlement offer? If the settlement offered is less than the amount owed in unpaid wages, you can reject your employer’s offer and negotiate for a higher settlement amount.
  • What if your employer does not offer to settle? If no settlement agreement is reached, your lawsuit will be scheduled for trial.

Contact Pride Legal

If you or a loved one requires legal counseling on California wage claims matters, we invite you to contact us at Pride Legal for any further questions. To protect your rights, hire someone who understands them.