One of the most fundamental aspects of the employer-employee relationship is that the employee should be fairly compensated for their work. While employers have some discretion over what they choose to pay their employees, there are federal and California state laws that govern what and when employees must be paid. Unfortunately, disorganized or unscrupulous employers regularly fail to pay their employees what they are owed, and wage violations therefore remain common. If you believe that you have not received the wages you are owed, contact a wage violation attorney to discuss your rights and your options.
Many Different Types of Wage Violations
You might think that a wage violation would be obvious, but this is not always the case. Employers’ payment schedules can be confusing and pay stubs can be difficult to decipher. Unless you are carefully keeping track of the hours you work and regularly checking your pay stubs, it is easy for wage violations to go unnoticed.
When discussing the topic of wage violation claims, many people are simply unaware of the many different ways that employers can violate their rights. Understanding the different types of wage violations can help you identify whether you have a wage violation claim.
Payroll “Errors” and Other Issues with Your Paycheck
The most basic form of wage violation involves failing to pay an employee the correct hourly wage or for the correct number of hours. It can also involve failing to pay commissions, tips, or other forms of compensation that are paid in addition to the employee’s base wages. Delivering your paycheck or failing to provide a wage statement with specific information can also be a wage violation.
Minimum Wage Violations
Minimum wage has received increased attention in recent years across the country due to increased pressure to ensure that workers are able to meet their basic living expenses. States typically increase their minimum wage by a schedule, and California is no exception. For 2023, California’s minimum wage is $15.50, but will increase to $16.00 effective January 1, 2024. There may be an additional increase for 2025 coming over the horizon. In addition to state-mandated increases, local governments are also authorized to increase the minimum wage. Effective July 1, 2023, the minimum wage for workers in the City of Los Angeles is $16.78, well ahead of the state minimum wage to be implemented next year.
The end result is that employers may fail to increase their minimum wage in keeping with state or local mandates. This could be because of poor record-keeping and payroll practices or could be an attempt to pad the bottom line. Their motivation is not your concern. If you are not being paid the appropriate minimum wage, you should reach out to an experienced wage violation attorney.
Another common wage violation is the failure to properly pay overtime wages. These violations generally come in one of two varieties:
- Failure to pay for “off-the-clock work” that would be paid at an overtime rate of pay. For example, a cafeteria requires food preparation workers to spend approximately 30 minutes prior to each shift preparing their workstations but does not allow them to clock in to perform this preliminary work. Food preparation workers who work 40 hours per week would be entitled to overtime pay for this prep work that they perform off the clock.
- Failure to pay the correct hourly wage for overtime work. Employees are entitled to an increased rate of pay above their typical hourly wage for overtime work.
California’s overtime laws are more complex than many people realize. As a result, violations of both of the types listed above can occur without the employee realizing it. Under California law, employers are obligated to pay the following:
- Time-and-a-half for any hours worked in excess of 8 hours per day up to 12 hours per day;
- Time-and-a-half for any hours worked in excess of 40 hours per week;
- Double-time for any hours worked in excess of 12 hours in a single day
- Double-time for more than 8 hours on the seventh consecutive day of work in a workweek
If you suspect that you have not received the proper overtime wages, a wage violation attorney can review your case and determine whether you have a claim.
Meal and Rest Breaks
Employees who work for more than five consecutive hours are entitled to a 30-minute unpaid meal break and an additional 30-minute unpaid meal break when working more than 12 hours in a day. They are also entitled to a 10-minute paid break for every four hours they work. Failure to pay workers for their rest breaks and forcing them to work during their meal breaks are common wage violation claims.
Employers are required by California law to reimburse employees for any necessary and reasonable expenses incurred as a result of the discharge of their job duties. This commonly includes reimbursement for such things as follows:
- Office supplies
- Tools and other equipment
- Gas and mileage in the use of their personal vehicles
Recent court decisions also require employers to reimburse employees a reasonable percentage of their internet or cellular service if their employer requires them to use their own internet service or device to perform their job.
Employees should be aware that there are exceptions to these rules and that you are not entitled to be reimbursed for things like your commuting expenses. However, you should contact a wage violation attorney if your employer refuses to reimburse you for expenses they require you to incur.
Misclassifying an employee can give rise to a variety of wage violation claims such as the ones discussed above, particularly overtime violations. There are two basic types of misclassification claims:
- Exempt vs. non-exempt misclassifications – paying an employee on a salary basis in an attempt to get around overtime and other wage requirements.
- Employee vs. independent contractor misclassifications – classifying an employee as an independent contractor in order to avoid paying overtime and various other benefits
Properly classifying employees requires a complex analysis, and employers cannot simply relieve themselves of their wage obligations by changing an employee’s classification. You should talk to a wage violation attorney if you have been classified as an exempt employee or an independent contractor but you believe are entitled to overtime pay and other benefits.
Late Payments and Withholding Pay
It is also a violation of California law to pay wages late. Work performed within the first 15 days of the month must generally be paid between the 16th and 26th day of that month. Work performed between the 16th day and the last calendar day of the month must be paid within the first 10 days of the following month. Overtime wages must be paid on the next regular payday.
It is also against the law to withhold payment from workers who have quit or been terminated.
- Employees who quit are entitled to receive a paycheck for all wages that they have earned within 72 hours of quitting or immediately after completing their final shift if they provided at least 72 hours’ notice of quitting.
- Employees who are terminated (whether as part of a layoff or with or without cause) must be paid immediately.
- Employees are entitled to be paid for any accrued unpaid vacation or sick leave as part of their final paycheck.
Failure to timely pay wages or issue an employee’s final paycheck are serious violations. If your employer is withholding your pay, you should seek legal guidance at your first opportunity.
Improper Pay Docking
Similar to withholding issues, violations can arise for salaried employees whose employers engage in improper pay docking. The general rule is that employers can only dock salaried employees in increments of one day, and salaried employees cannot be docked for any day where they performed any work at all. Here is an example of how these violations occur:
- The office manager (a salaried employee) is pregnant and suffers from severe morning sickness. As a result, she has been regularly arriving late to the office and calling out sick regularly. Her employer is frustrated and thinks that she is taking advantage of her salaried status. One morning when the office manager calls in sick, her supervisor tells her that they are going to start docking her pay. Feeling guilty, the officer manager comes into the office by mid-afternoon to handle a few important matters and stays until the end of the day. Regardless, her employer docks her pay for a half day. The office manager’s employer has improperly docked her pay (1) because it was for less than one day; and (2) because she worked for at least three hours.
Salaried employees should be aware that there are many situations where employers can properly dock their pay. But if you believe that your paycheck has been improperly docked, you should contact a wage violation attorney as soon as possible.
Understand Your Rights
If your employer has failed to pay you the wages you are owed, the good news is that you have rights – rights that extend beyond just the wages that your employer owes you. The remedies available to you will vary according to the type of violation your employer has committed, but they generally include the following:
- Your unpaid wages
- Additional liquidated damages
- Interest on any unpaid wages
- Attorney’s fees and court costs
The law allows workers to seek damages in addition to their unpaid wages in order to hold employers accountable. Otherwise, unethical employers could engage in illegal wage practices without impunity. In other words, you are entitled to more than just your unpaid wages if your employer has committed a wage violation.
It is important to emphasize that employees are entitled to recover their attorney’s fees and court costs if they pursue a wage violation claim. Attorneys are expensive and expecting a worker to bear the costs of pursuing their wage violation claim would be deeply unfair. The ability to recover their legal fees and court costs empowers employees to assert their rights and hold their employers accountable. It also encourages employers to promptly resolve wage violation claims in order to avoid having to pay a significant amount in attorney’s fees and costs.
A wage violation attorney can discuss with you what damages you can expect to receive if your claim is successful. They can also discuss with you how they will bill for their fees and how it will impact your claim.
Retaliation is Against the Law
Many workers are afraid to pursue a wage violation case because they are worried they will be fired, get passed over for promotion, or suffer other adverse consequences. This is a reasonable concern, but thankfully, it is against the law for your employer to take any retaliatory action against you for asserting your rights. Employers who engage in retaliation are subject to even greater liability. If you believe that you have been retaliated against due to a previous wage violation claim, you should reach out to an employment attorney as soon as possible.
You Have Options
There are different avenues for pursuing your wage violation claim. This includes the following:
- You can file a complaint with the California Labor Board, which will investigate your claim and take the appropriate action
- You can file a lawsuit against your employer in California Superior Court
- You can join in a class action wage violation lawsuit
Each of these options has its own requirements as well as its own advantages and disadvantages. An experienced wage violation attorney can provide guidance as to which option would be best suited for your case so that you can make an informed decision as to how to proceed.
Talk to a Wage Violation Attorney at Attorneys for Employees Today
At Attorneys for Employees, we know that you depend on your wages to pay your bills and take care of your family. That is why we provide aggressive legal representation for workers who have not been fairly paid. To discuss your case and how we can help, contact us today to schedule a consultation.