If you believe you haven’t been paid all the money due to you, you might have a case against your employer for unpaid wages under federal or state labor laws. The federal Fair Labor Standards Act protects your right to earn at least the federal minimum wage, to keep your tips (except those that are paid into a valid tip pooling arrangement) and many other protections. The state of California provides even greater protections, such as providing guidelines of when you must be paid, requiring employers to pay out your earned and unused vacation time, and many more.
Common Wage Violations Which May Warrant an Unpaid Wages Case
If you believe your employer is guilty of any of the following violations, you should immediately seek professional advice from a lawyer:
Minimum Wage Violations
The current federal minimum wage is $7.25. However, in the state of California the minimum wage rate is $10.00 per hour as of January 1, 2016. With few exceptions, such as outside sales people and the parents, spouses or children of the employer, California law supersedes federal law and all nonexempt employees must be paid at least $10.00 per hour.
Underpaying Service Employees
One way an employer might break the law is by using your tips as a credit toward its obligation to pay you the minimum wage. Employers are also not permitted to make any deductions (such as credit card processing fees) from your gratuities.
Employers also must not keep any portion of your tips. All tips belong to you, not your employer. Exceptions include tip pools, where tips are shared among kitchen and wait staff, as long as your employer does not take a portion of the tips.
Final Paycheck Violations
California law also dictates limits on when you should receive your final paycheck. A non-contract employee who gives at least 72 hours advance notice of his or her intention to quit, and quits on the day of given notice, must be paid all his or her wages, including accrued vacation, on the day he or she leave the job. If you don’t give your employer 72 hours advance notice, you must still receive your final paycheck, including accrued vacation, within 72 hours of quitting.
If an employer terminates your employment, California law states that you are to be paid all monies due to you at the time of your discharge. If the employer fails to pay you when required to do so, , you may be eligible to receive a waiting time penalty. The waiting time penalty is not considered wages, so no deductions should be taken from the penalty payment before it its given to you.
In addition to minimum wage violations, California law provides other protections to employees:
Under California law, if an employee works more than five hours in a work day, and more than six total hours, he or she is entitled to a meal period of at least 30 minutes. Employees must be relieved of ALL duty during this meal period; otherwise, the lunch period must be compensated as regular pay. For instance, if your employer requires you to remain at your work site during your meal period, your lunch period must be paid.
In the state of California, all nonexempt employees who work more than eight hours in any given workday, or forty hours in any given work week, are entitled to overtime pay. Overtime pay, at a minimum, must be one-and-one-half times your regular rate of pay.
There is no current law in the state of California that requires an employer to provide its employees paid or unpaid vacation time. However, should an employer decide to do so, any earned vacation time is considered wages under California law. Accrued vacation time cannot be forfeited even upon termination of employment, regardless of the reason for termination. And in most cases, all earned and unused vacation time must be paid to the employee at his or her final rate of pay.
Ways to Get Help
This information is not all inclusive of all the ways employers may violate federal and state wage and hour laws. You may have a valid claim even if your complaint isn’t listed here. If you believe that your employer is violating state or federal wage laws, your first step is to try to resolve the issue internally. Oftentimes reporting the issue to your Human Resources or payroll department will rectify the problem. Make sure you follow your company’s formal procedures when doing so.
In the event that your employer still fails to respond, consider consulting an experienced employment law attorney. They are professionals who deal only in employment law and have extensive experience in this field.
In addition, if you feel that you were terminated, threatened with discharge, demoted, suspended, or if your employer retaliated against you in any other manner as a result of your claim, you should consult with an employment law attorney.
The Law Offices of Cathe L. Caraway-Howard have years of experience in defending employees’ rights in unpaid wage cases in the greater Los Angeles area. If you are unsure if you have grounds for an unpaid wages claim, please give us a call.