Wage theft unfortunately occurs more often than it should in California. Some employers take advantage of their employees and do not pay the correct wage.
If you believe you are the victim of wage theft you have the right to file a wage claim at the Labor Commissioner’s Office. By filing a wage claim, your complaint of wage theft will be investigated and any discrepancy in pay may be rectified.
A wage claim can be made for any of the following forms of wage theft:
- paying less than the state minimum wage;
- not paying overtime rates if worked more than 40 hours in a 7 day period;
- illegal deductions from paycheck;
- unpaid paychecks;
- no sick leave;
- business expenses not reimbursed;
- no meal breaks or rest breaks.
Wage claims can be made by any worker in California. The right to file a claim for wage theft is not restricted to workers on regular wages. Even if you are working for an individual or company and being paid “under the table” or you are working as an illegal immigrant, you still have the right to file a wage claim.
Labor Laws in California
State and federal labor laws protect all workers in California regardless of immigration status. Unfortunately, some employers take advantage of employees who they think are too afraid to speak up if they are not paid correctly.
No one at the Labor Commissioner’s office will ask you about your immigration status if you file a wage claim, so this shouldn’t stop you doing that. Even if you don’t speak English very well, there are ways you can file your claim in your own language.
Your employer is not allowed to retaliate against you or threaten you if you do not have immigration papers on you or just because you have filed a claim with the Labor Commissioner.
How to File
To file a wage claim, you should first download a wage claim form and fill it in. Visit an office of the Labor Commissioner in person to obtain a form and fill it in if you need help. If you don’t understand any part of the form, you can ring the labor Commissioner’s office for help.
Completed wage claim forms should be filed at the labor Commissioner’s office in person or sent by mail.
You will need to file your wage claim for most forms of wage theft within three years of the problem. If you only had a promise to pay at least the minimum wage by word of mouth you have two years from the problem to file your claim. Those on contracts have four years to file a wage claim.
On receipt of the wage claim, a settlement conference will be scheduled which will be attended by you, your employee and a Deputy Labor Commissioner. There will be an attempt to resolve the complaint at this settlement conference. If you wish to speak in private at any time at the conference you can do so with the deputy Labor Commissioner.
If there is no satisfactory resolution of the dispute at the settlement conference, a hearing will then be scheduled. You will be advised in writing about the time and date of the hearing. A Hearing Officer will review any documentation you have which shows you haven’t been paid properly and will take submissions from you and your employer under oath.
The Hearing Officer will later make a decision about your case and you will be advised in writing of the decision one way or another
If the decision is not in your favor, you still have the right to take your claim to the Supreme Court.
It is advisable to have an employment lawyer on your side throughout the claim process. It is a good idea to discuss your complaint with the lawyer before you complete a wage claim. The lawyer will advise you about any steps you should take before you file a claim, such as making a formal enquiry in writing about your pay and why you think it is wrong with your employer.
The lawyer will examine any evidence you have and provide advice about making sure you have sufficient evidence before you file the claim. If your English is not too good, the lawyer may be able to arrange for an interpreter to accompany you to the settlement conference or hearing or both.
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