Have you ever given your time and effort to an employer only to find your paycheck lighter than expected? You’re not alone. Wage theft has become a growing epidemic across industries in California, with workers losing MILLIONS in unpaid wages every year.

When employers skirt labor laws for their own gain, employees suffer the real impact of denied wages. Recovering unpaid earnings in California can be challenging without legal guidance. However, understanding your rights and promptly taking action can help get you the pay that belongs to you.

If you performed work your employer failed to adequately compensate you for, contact our California unpaid wages lawyer at TONG LAW immediately. With years of combined experience assisting California workers in recovering owed wages, we can evaluate your specific claim and fight to maximize your recovery under state and federal laws.

Don’t wait to get the help you need—contact TONG LAW today.

Are You Owed Unpaid Wages in California? Common Wage Violations

Before determining if you’re owed unpaid wages, it helps to understand the most frequent ways employers deny rightful pay:

  • Minimum wage violations: Being paid less than the state minimum wage.
  • Unpaid overtime: Not receiving time-and-a-half pay for hours worked over 8 per day or 40 per week (exemptions apply).
  • Missed breaks: Not providing unpaid 30-minute breaks when working more than five hours in a day and one 10-minute paid break for every four hours worked.
  • Late final paychecks: Failing to pay full wages within deadlines upon termination.
  • Unpaid commissions: Not paying commission wages according to contract terms promptly.

These violations disproportionately affect lower-wage and more vulnerable workers. But unpaid wages can happen to anyone. For example, salaried employees working excessive hours may be owed overtime, while commission-based workers may find paydays continuously pushed back.

Your Rights Under California Wage and Hour Laws

California employment law sets out clear guidelines for employers to pay employees’ wages, overtime, breaks, and benefits. Understanding these responsibilities can help identify when wage theft may be occurring. Key areas include:

Payment of Minimum and Overtime Wages

Employers must pay at least the state minimum wage – currently $15.50 per hour for all companies. However, there may also be minimums at the city level. For example, Oakland’s minimum wage is $15.97, while in San Francisco and Berkeley, it’s $18.07.

Additionally, any hours over 8 hours in a day or 40 in a week are owed at time-and-a-half overtime rates for non-exempt employees. Wages must be paid on designated paydays and include pay statements listing hours, rates, and earnings. Late, shorted, or bounced paychecks likely violate state law.

Provision of Meal and Rest Breaks

California employers must provide a 10-minute rest break for every 4 hours worked and an uninterrupted 30-minute meal break for any shift over 5 hours. If breaks are not correctly provided, one hour of additional pay is owed for each day an employee lacks compliant breaks. Employers may not require employees to remain on duty or on-call during meal periods.

Avoiding Off-the-Clock Work

Requiring employees to work before clocking in, after clocking out, or remotely when off the clock violates rules against off-the-clock work. Employees must be fully compensated for all time worked, whether on the employer’s premises or elsewhere. Prohibiting off-the-books work protects employees from wage theft.

Payment of Commissions and Bonuses

Commission and bonus policies should be clear upfront. Earned commissions and bonuses must be paid according to company policy or contract terms. Withholding commissions or delaying bonuses beyond agreed upon likely constitutes wage theft under California law.

Furnishing Final Pay Promptly

Final wages for all hours worked must be paid immediately upon termination, including accrued vacation pay. If an employee quits, employers have 72 hours to furnish their final check. Missed deadlines can trigger waiting time penalties.

How Do I Recover Unpaid Wages from My California Employer?

If you performed work that your employer failed to fully compensate you, promptly taking these steps can help get you paid:

Carefully Track and Document All Time Worked

Keeping thorough daily records is crucial to proving what unpaid wages you are owed. Be sure to log your work hours, including start and end times each workday. Note any overtime hours extending beyond 8 hours in a day or 40 hours a week.

Save copies of all your pay stubs and match them to your corresponding daily time sheets. This allows you to compare hours logged versus hours paid and clearly document any discrepancies.

For instance, you may notice overtime hours not paid at time-and-a-half rates as required by law. Or you may have recorded 30-minute meal breaks that were not provided. Compile schedules, workplace policies, training documents, and communications that may validate hours worked.

Just be certain records are always accurate – falsifying time logs can only undermine your claim. Your detailed hours worked records will provide the evidence to show exactly what compensation your employer owes you.

Send a Formal Written Request for Unpaid Wages

With your documentation assembled, write a formal letter to your employer listing the total of each type of unpaid wages owed to you and requesting payment of those wages.

  • Specify dates, hours worked, pay rates, and total amounts due for any unpaid minimum wage, overtime, meal and rest break wages, and unpaid final wages upon termination.
  • Send the letter by certified mail and retain the delivery confirmation as proof your employer received the payment request.
  • Keep a copy of the letter for your records. This creates a necessary paper trail showing you actively sought payment before escalating your claim.

Allow a reasonable window, such as 14 days, for your employer to respond to your notice before progressing to the next steps.

Submit an Unpaid Wage Claim with the CA Labor Commissioner

You can file a wage claim directly with the California Labor Commissioner’s office without a lawyer. This state agency will investigate your complaint of unpaid wages free of charge. Visit the Labor Commissioner’s website to download a wage claim form, or stop by one of their local offices. You’ll need to provide your personal information, your employer’s contact details, and the specifics of your wage claim.

Give the types of unpaid wages owed (such as minimum wage, overtime, meal breaks, etc), dates and hours worked, your rate of pay, and the total amount due for each violation. Submit supporting evidence like timecards, pay stubs, company policies, and employment contracts. After reviewing, the Labor Commissioner may contact your employer to arrange a settlement conference or schedule a formal hearing to reach a decision on your claim.

If they find your claim valid, the Labor Commissioner’s office can order your employer to pay the unpaid wages owed and interest, damages, and penalties. However, concluding an investigation and the appeals process may take over a year. An employment attorney can provide guidance to maximize your chances of success.

Consult a Wage and Hour Attorney

An attorney experienced in wage and hour law can advise if your employer violated labor codes and vigorously pursued your unpaid wages. They can also represent you if you are retaliated against for asserting your rights.

The wage and hour lawyers at TONG LAW can evaluate whether your employer truly violated labor laws and accurately calculate all unpaid minimum, overtime, and promised wages you are owed.

We can send a demand letter, aggressively negotiate a settlement, and file a lawsuit to recover your unpaid earnings. With extensive experience, we know how to navigate deadlines, maximize recovery under California law, and protect you from retaliation for pursuing owed wages. Our experience can make a difference in getting you your rightfully earned pay.

Act Fast to Recover Your Unpaid Wages

Time limits apply under California law for recovering owed wages. Take action as soon as possible to avoid forfeiting wages unfairly withheld from you by an employer.

Has your employer failed to pay all wages owed to you? The team at TONG LAW has years of combined experience assisting California employees just like you in recovering their unpaid wages.

Contact us today for a case review. Don’t wait to fight for the pay that belongs to you.