Wage theft is a serious problem – not just in California, but all over the country – but if it’s happened to you, you may have legal recourse. This guide explains.
What is Wage Theft in California?
Wage theft occurs when an employer intentionally deprives a person of the money they’re owed for working. That’s the simplest definition, though California law provides even more detail. The bottom line is that when a person works, they’re entitled to fair compensation for their time – and if an employer doesn’t provide it, it’s wage theft.
Examples of Wage Theft
It may be wage theft if your employer:
- Fails to pay you minimum wage for California (or your locality, as some localities have higher minimum wage rates than the state does)
- Doesn’t allow you to use paid sick leave you’ve earned
- Doesn’t pay you for overtime you’ve worked
- Fails to deliver your paycheck after you’ve worked
- Refuses to allow you to take meal or rest breaks
- Takes unauthorized deductions from your paycheck
- Fails to reimburse you for business expenses
- Doesn’t give you your final pay in a timely manner
- Fails to give you vacation pay or bonuses you’re entitled to
Here are some real-world examples:
Terry works four hours of overtime throughout one workweek, bringing his total hours worked to 44. His employer pays him his regular hourly wage for all 44 hours, failing to compensate him with extra money for the four hours of overtime he worked. Although this could just be an oversight that Terry can correct by approaching his employer with the error, it may also be an example of intentional wage theft.
Melissa’s boss tells her to work through her lunch break to meet an important deadline, although Melissa has clocked out for the break. Even if Melissa clocks back in and works at her desk while eating lunch, the employer may be committing wage theft; Melissa is supposed to have a daily lunch break that frees her from her duties. (The employer in this case should most likely ask Melissa to work overtime to meet the deadline.)
Jin’s employer requires all employees to purchase their own safety equipment as a condition of employment. This is a form of wage theft; if your employer requires you to have safety gear, it must provide that gear to you at no charge.
Related: What is an unpaid wages claim?
What Can You Do About Wage Theft?
There are a few ways to approach wage theft (or potential wage theft). First, you may wish to try to resolve the issue with your employer on your own. Sometimes employers make honest mistakes, such as forgetting to tag some hours for overtime pay, and sometimes supervisors don’t know that they can’t ask workers to keep working during break times.
You may also wish to talk to an attorney about your situation. In many cases, employers try to get away with wage theft for as long as they can – and they need to be held accountable (not just for what they’re doing to you, but to other workers, as well). Your attorney may advise you to file a wage claim with the Labor Commissioner’s Office and go from there.
What if You’re an Independent Contractor?
The Labor Commissioner’s Office has no jurisdiction over independent contractors, which means you can’t file a wage complaint with them. However, if you’re an independent contractor who may be misclassified (meaning you’re actually treated like an employee) or you’re having trouble getting paid, you may wish to speak to an attorney who can help you.
Note: Many employers misclassify people as independent contractors when they should be considered employees. Sometimes employers do this accidentally, but in other cases, employers do it so they can save money on benefits and taxes. If you think you may be misclassified, you should seek a Los Angeles labor lawyer’s advice immediately.
What if You’re an Undocumented Immigrant?
Everyone is entitled to fair compensation for their work, and your immigration status does not affect your ability to make a wage claim against your employer. Do not let your immigration status prevent you from getting the money you’ve earned, no matter what your employer tells you.
Do You Need to Talk to an Attorney About Wage Theft?
If you need to speak to an attorney about wage theft or potential wage theft, we’re here for you. Call us at 818-230-8380 right away for a free consultation with an experienced attorney. If it’s easier, you can fill out the form below and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.