Legally reviewed by: Jessica Anvar Stotz, JD, MBA
Suing for unpaid wages is a recourse available to workers in California who find themselves in the unfortunate situation of not being paid fairly for their labor. Whether it’s a case of not receiving the minimum wage, unpaid overtime, or other wage violations, California law provides several avenues for employees to seek redress.
In this article, we’ll explore the various methods and legal actions that individuals in California can take to recover unpaid wages. These options include filing wage claims with government agencies, pursuing federal wage claims, initiating wage and hour lawsuits in court, and consulting employment attorneys for legal assistance.
Employees in California who have not received the wages they are owed can sue for unpaid wages. This includes various types of compensation, such as regular wages, overtime pay, commissions, tips, and more.
To provide a more detailed perspective on who can sue for unpaid wages, consider the following:
It’s important to note that there is a three-year statute of limitations for wage and hour lawsuits in California. This means that employees generally have up to three years from the date of the most recent violation to bring a lawsuit for unpaid wages.
Any employee in California, regardless of their immigration status, can sue for unpaid wages if they have not been paid correctly according to the state’s labor laws. This includes issues related to minimum wage, overtime, and various wage and hour violations.
Suing for unpaid wages in the United States can be done through various channels. Here are four different ways to take legal action for unpaid wages, along with the steps involved:
To file a wage claim, you can contact your state’s Department of Labor or the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division and provide details about your wage dispute, including dates, hours worked, and unpaid amounts. The department will investigate your claim and may work to recover your unpaid wages.
An employment attorney can assess your case and can help you negotiate with your employer or take legal action.
In drafting a formal demand letter outlining your wage dispute, include specific details such as the amount owed, the work performed, and any violations of labor laws. Send the letter to your employer, requesting payment within a specified timeframe.
If other methods fail, you can file a lawsuit in civil court. You should consult with an attorney to prepare the necessary legal documents. The case will proceed through litigation, including court appearances, negotiations, and potentially a trial.
The appropriate method for suing for unpaid wages may vary depending on your situation, because of this, we highly recommend working with legal professionals for guidance.
In California and many other jurisdictions, the following are common types of wages for which you can pursue legal action:
You should work with an employment attorney to determine the specific types of unpaid wages you are owed and to understand your legal options for pursuing a lawsuit against your employer.
The worth of an unpaid wage claim in California can vary widely depending on several factors, including the amount of unpaid wages, any late payment penalties, and the minimum wage rates applicable in your location. Here are factors that affect your ultimate settlement amount:
For example, if you were underpaid by $2 per hour for 200 hours of work, your unpaid wage claim would be $400 (200 hours x $2 per hour). Late payment penalties, if applicable, could add to this amount.
The damages for unpaid wages in California may include all unpaid wages and overtime, plus interest, reasonable attorney’s fees, and court costs as outlined in California Labor Code §1194. Damages can vary depending on the specific circumstances of the wage violation
In California, the time limit for claiming unpaid wages varies depending on the nature of the violation. For violations of minimum wage, overtime, unpaid rest and meal breaks, sick leave, illegal deductions from pay, or unpaid reimbursements, you have three years to file a wage claim. If the claim is related to a written contract, you have four years to file a wage claim.
Individuals who can be held personally liable for unpaid wages are typically owners, directors, managing agents, or corporate officers of a company. This personal liability is governed by California Labor Code Section 558.1.
Under this section, if such individuals, acting on behalf of the company, are found to be responsible for wage and hour violations, they may be held personally liable for unpaid wages. The purpose of this provision is to ensure that employees can recover unpaid wages more effectively.
Recent court decisions have clarified and reinforced the personal liability of these individuals for unpaid wages, emphasizing that courts should not excuse individual liability to maintain the effectiveness of Section 558.1.
In California, employers are required to pay their employees promptly on their designated payday. The specific rules for payment in California are as follows:
These rules ensure that employees receive their wages promptly and in compliance with California labor laws. Employers must adhere to these guidelines to avoid any delays in paying their employees.
Additionally, it’s important to note that recent legislation in California has expanded paid sick leave requirements, guaranteeing workers at least five paid sick days per year, and these changes may impact employers’ obligations regarding leave benefits.
In California, if there is a payroll error, the employer should correct it as soon as possible. The specific timeframe for correction is not clearly defined by California labor laws, but prompt correction is encouraged.
Delaying the correction of payroll errors, especially on a final paycheck, can result in waiting time penalties, which could amount to one full day’s wages for every day the employee has to wait, up to a maximum of 30 days.
Need legal help for unpaid wages in California? LawLinq may be able to help you. We are a California-based lawyer referral service that connects individuals in need of legal assistance with qualified lawyers in various practice areas, at no cost.
We regularly monitor member lawyers for credentials, ethics, performance, and fees to ensure professionalism and ethical conduct. To connect with an attorney through LawLinq, you can contact our team at (855) 997-2558.