Few things are as important to employees as their wages, the fruit of their hard labor. But what if your company has been intentionally trying to withhold pay that’s rightfully yours?
In such cases, employees can file unpaid wage claims against their employers. To know more about it, take a look at this guide:
Understanding wage violations
The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938 ensures that employees can earn a living wage and are paid appropriately for their work. Your company may have committed wage violation by failing to comply with the following:
- Paying the minimum wage: Employers who fail to pay the mandatory state minimum wage of $14 per hour (as of January 2021) are committing wage violations. Note that the California minimum wage will top out at $15 an hour in 2022, and all companies with 26 or more employees must pay this hourly rate by then. That said, many cities and counties have an even higher minimum wage, so confirm that your employer is complying with local statutes.
- Giving overtime pay: The law defines the workweek as being 40-hours long, and all work rendered past that limit must be paid at one and one-half times the regular hourly rate. Furthermore, employers must pay double the hourly rate if they require someone to work over 12 hours in a single day.
- Allowing meal and rest breaks: Employees are entitled to one 30-minute meal break for every five hours they work. If you work an eight-hour shift, you get one meal break; if you work a 10-hour shift, you’re entitled to a second one. Companies that don’t follow this mandate must pay a full hour’s worth of wages for each half-hour break a worker missed.
If you file a suit against your company and win, you will be awarded all unpaid wages as damages. Your employer may also be slapped with penalties to deter them from committing the same violations.
Are you exempt or non-exempt?
Most employees in California are not exempted from being paid overtime. You can quickly verify if you are non-exempt by reviewing your employment contract.
That said, certain workers are paid a fixed salary rather than an hourly wage, thus making them exempt from overtime pay. Furthermore, exempt employees often have administrative roles with decision-making authority, so they are paid much more than a rank-and-file worker.
Knowing if you are exempt or non-exempt is vital because it determines whether you have the standing to sue your employer in the first place, especially for overtime pay disputes.
Considerations when suing for unpaid wage
If you think you have a strong case against your employer, you’re likely eager to file a suit against them. But before you do so, consider these things first:
To sue or not to sue?
The first question to ask is whether you should file a suit in the first place. In many instances, wage disputes can be amicably resolved between employer and employee. If your company refuses to budge, however, then you might have to take legal action.
How should you file your case?
You should also consider whether to file a single case or pursue a wage and hour class action lawsuit. As often happens, unfair wage practices are committed against many employees simultaneously, so you can band together and sue your company as a group.
Doing so offers one key benefit: the more plaintiffs there are, the bigger the damages will be. And the bigger the damages sought, the more willing companies are to agree to a settlement.
How should you file your case?
There are actually three ways to sue and recover unpaid wages. These include:
- Filing a wage claim with the DLSE: In most cases, your attorney will recommend filing your claim with the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE). The division can directly investigate and hear complaints, often making it the cheaper and faster route to getting recompense.
- Filing a federal wage claim: You could also file a claim at the federal level, though this is less desirable as California’s state law has more generous wage provisions than its federal counterpart.
- Filing a civil suit: If the legal issues surrounding wage disputes are complex or if the amount sued for is especially large, filing a civil suit is a viable option.
Getting back your unpaid wages can feel like an uphill battle, and you need the expertise of a firm that specializes in labor and employment law. The team at Hogue & Belong, APC looks forward to representing you and will fight to get the recompense you deserve. Call Hogue & Belong, APC at 619.238.4720 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to get started.