What Is Wage Theft?

Wage theft is a serious crime against employees in California. Unlawfully denying an employee’s wage rights is often a way to increase a company’s profitability. It is a wrongdoing that could lead to financial hardship for victimized workers. The Fair Labor Standards Act is the main law against wage theft in the U.S.

What is The Fair Labor Standards Act?

The Fair Labor Standards Act is the law that created federal minimum wage, overtime rules, child labor laws and record-keeping requirements. If an employer ignores the act and unfairly pays an employee less than the law requires, that employer could be guilty of wage theft. An employee suffering wage theft may have grounds for a claim against the employer in these situations.

What Are Examples of Wage Theft?

Many employees are unaware they are the victims of wage theft until they have already lost thousands of dollars to unlawful employers. Employers may hide wage theft, provide seemingly valid reasons for wage garnishment or threaten retaliation – such as job termination – for asking questions about wages. Employees in California have legal rights, however, to expect fair wages based on state and federal laws. An employer could be guilty of wage theft in many different ways, all of which could make a worker eligible for financial compensation.

  • Paying less than federal or state minimum wage
  • Refusing to pay agreed-upon wages
  • Forbidding meal and/or rest breaks
  • Taking an employee’s tips
  • Ignoring paid medical leave rights
  • Taking back promised vacation time or bonuses
  • Failing to pay an employee’s final wages
  • Making unauthorized deductions from paychecks
  • Refusing to reimburse business expenses
  • Failing to give employees access to payroll and employment records

If your employer has done anything that resembles wage theft, you could have grounds for a complaint and/or a civil lawsuit. Your employer may owe you money for wages you should rightfully have received in the past, as well as additional compensation as a penalty against the company. If you are not sure whether you have been the victim of wage theft, consult with an employment law attorney for more information about your specific case.

How to File a Wage Claim in California

A wage theft claim can be difficult to handle without legal assistance. Your employer may dispute your claim and try to avoid paying you what the company lawfully owes. You may also need assistance gathering evidence and understanding how California’s wage and hour laws work. Retaining an attorney can make it easy to take the steps necessary to bring a wage theft claim against your employer, as well as to fight for fair financial recovery.

  1. Gather information. You will need proof of wage theft to bring a case against your employer. Gather important information such as the name and address of your company, names of any responsible parties, hours you have worked, employment contract, and paystubs.
  2. File the claim. Next, you or your lawyer will file a wage claim with the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement at the Labor Commissioner’s Office. This office takes wage theft claims in person, via email or through the mail.
  3. Attend a settlement conference. In most cases, the Labor Commissioner will arrange a settlement meeting between you and your employer to resolve the wage dispute. If this fails, the office will schedule a hearing to proceed with a lawsuit.

Your attorney must file your wage theft claim by California’s statute of limitations to have a valid case. The deadline to file depends on the type of wage theft in question. Your lawyer will have four years for breach of a written contract; three years for violations of overtime, minimum wage, sick leave, etc.; two years for an oral promise to pay more than minimum wage; or one year for paying with a bounced check or failing to provide access to payroll. Speak to an attorney as soon as possible to avoid missing your time limit to file.