Workers in California can experience unpaid wages for several reasons. These causes can be uncompensated salaried hours and unpaid bonuses or commissions during a termination process. Even work misclassification can result in wage theft. Work misclassification is something many businesses attempt to get away with to hold back on paying out additional employee earnings.

Employees may occasionally feel they do not have a case worth pursuing when going against their current or former employer. The positive news is that the state of California, from Los Angeles to San Diego to elsewhere in the Bay Area, protects workers with wage and hour laws for employees. Unpaid wages and overtime hours happen a lot, but they do not have to, and should not.

Hours abuse is taken seriously in California, and an overtime lawyer can help workers seek compensation for unpaid hours. It is important to know that California takes unsettled incomes seriously and protects employees for their earned pay in any industry—even those terminated from a position or experiencing issues with residency or immigration.

Unpaid Wages Laws and Your Employee Rights

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938 is among the most crucial federal legislation covering wages for employment. This law covers both overtime as well as minimum wage directives.

The FLSA applies to any employer of the private sector with two or more employees, interstate commerce, and gross revenue of $500,000 or more in a year. If interstate commerce stipulation sounds difficult, most businesses will fall into this category. Receiving and sending business mail out of California qualifies a company as dealing with interstate commerce.

When dealing with a California unpaid wages lawyer, you have an expert on your side with experience regarding both federal and state employment laws.

California also protects employees for due earnings under the California Labor Code sections 201-204. In sections 201-204, a business’s failure to reimburse earnings is covered. Additionally, in the California Labor Code, section 510 tackles overtime hours.

From the California Labor Code:

Labor Code section 201(a) – “If an employer discharges an employee, the wages earned and unpaid at the time of discharge are due and payable immediately.”

Labor Code section 202(a) – “If an employee not having a written contract for a definite period quits his or her employment, his or her wages shall become due and payable not later than 72 hours thereafter, unless the employee has given 72 hours previous notice of his or her intention to quit, in which case the employee is entitled to his or her wages at the time of quitting.”

Labor Code section 203 – “(a) If an employer willfully fails to pay, without abatement or reduction, in accordance with Sections 201, 201.3, 201.5, 202, and 205.5, any wages of an employee who is discharged or who quits, the wages of the employee shall continue as a penalty from the due date thereof at the same rate until paid or until an action therefor is commenced; but the wages shall not continue for more than 30 days.

“An employee who secretes or absents himself or herself to avoid payment to him or her, or who refuses to receive the payment when fully tendered to him or her, including any penalty then accrued under this section, is not entitled to any benefit under this section for the time during which he or she so avoids payment.”

These sections essentially state that regardless of resignation or termination, an employer must garnish all wages earned by the worker within 72 hours.

Furthermore, if they fail to pay this income within the legal timeframe, the employer can be required to pay penalties equivalent to one day’s wage of the worker, up to 30 days, for each day they are late. If the business fails to pay the single day’s standard earnings for 30 days, the employee or former employee is entitled to 30 days of standard pay wages.

For workers typically paid just twice a month, section 204(a) mandates businesses to garnish employee earnings within ten days after the last day of payroll. There is a legal difference between companies that pay bi-monthly and those that compensate employees bi-weekly. Bi-weekly pay must be delivered to the worker within seven days after a given payroll ends.

Labor Code section 204(a) – “Labor performed between the 1st and 15th days, inclusive, of any calendar month shall be paid for between the 16th and the 26th day of the month during which the labor was performed, and labor performed between the 16th and the last day, inclusive, of any calendar month, shall be paid for between the 1st and 10th day of the following month.

“The requirements of this section shall be deemed satisfied by the payment of wages for weekly, biweekly, or semimonthly payroll if the wages are paid not more than seven calendar days following the close of the payroll period.”

Common Industries with Wage Reimbursement Challenges

Some industries are more subject to illegal wage issues than others.

Sales fields often cause headaches from commissioned employees, when a worker’s percentage of a sale does not come in quickly, or at all. If an employer fails to pay out commissions within the legal timeframe, the worker could have a strong case for employer violations.

In many sales positions, an employee may have to work for long periods at minimum wage before ever making a commission on a sale. After earning a commission, they might have to wait excessive periods before getting that payment.

The hospitality industry is another common culprit of unpaid wages. In California, tipped employees have a right to a set minimum wage even without the inclusion of tips.

Doctors and nurses in hospitals have their own issues, such as a lack of reimbursement for meals within the workplace when they must be in the building for lengthy shifts.

In several corporate positions, overtime hours for salary employees can turn into hour abuse, lowering the agreed-upon hourly wage for legal workweek hours.

Exchanging Work for Pay is a Binding Agreement

Legally, employment within the state of California is a binding agreement. It does not matter the industry, whether an employee was terminated, or even if issues exist with immigration. If an employee provided the hours, they have a right to their earnings.

Typically, these employment agreements are covered under work contracts. However, oral employment agreements can be subject to these laws. For specific questions on a case, it’s best to consult with wage attorneys to see whether you have a viable claim.

Unpaid Wages with Overtime, Minimum Wage Rights, and Independent Contractor Exceptions

As with other states, California dictates through its employment laws that workers have a right to the specified minimum wage of the current time of employment. Within these laws, overtime is part of the binding agreement for work in standard employment, whether a work contract is written or oral.

Independent contractors are a single exception to these laws, regarding both overtime as well as minimum wages. By law, payment to workers who fall under the label of an independent contractor does not count as salaries or incomes.

Companies Need to Pay Wages by Law

When an employer in the state of California breaks the law regarding working hour laws and state wages, they risk fines. The laws exist to protect employees, including lawyers. If a law firm or any other business does not adequately pay for even a single hour of work, the company risks fines up to 30 days wages, as well as legal costs and other fees.

California Law Requires Businesses to Put Your Wages in Writing

Not every industry will reimburse an employee the same way or within the same timing. Commissions, hourly rates, and salaries can all get to the employee in varying timeframes (within reason). Furthermore, employers can increasingly payout earnings in a variety of ways, such as direct deposit, checks, and even cash.

As for the timeframe of receiving payment, for most types of business within California, employees are paid, at minimum, twice a month. For standard employment (not independent contractors), these payments should get sent or delivered to the employee at a regularly scheduled time.

The timeframe should get worked out at the beginning of the employment agreement. Businesses are also required to have the payroll schedule displayed in clear view somewhere workers can readily see it within the company.

Regardless of the type of payment and the standard timeline, California employers are required to provide their workers with a wage statement. With every payroll cycle, these wage statements must deliver the following in clear writing:

  • Tax, retirement, and insurance withholdings, as well as other deductions
  • Recorded hours of work
  • Number of pieces for workers who get paid a piece rate
  • Both the gross and net earnings

Businesses in California are also required to keep the wage statements of current and former employees for three years. Even if employees no longer work for a company, under California state law, the worker can have access to a copy of their wage statements at any time before the three-year timeframe expires.

Depending on the industry, employers in California have various levels of requirements for any uncompensated workers. With many forms of wages, healthcare benefits, and paid vacation time, the business or law firm could have varying constraints and obligations according to the laws in California. Unpaid employees, including attorneys, have fluctuating levels of protection depending on their binding work agreement.

California and Typical Company Hour and Wage Violations

The state of California is among the most respectful in the nation regarding employee wage rights. Even so, in most legal cases within California regarding wages, plaintiffs state that their current or former employer breached federal laws within FLSA. These cases can include requirements covering the stated minimum wage or employees who are required to work over 40 hours per week, as well as overtime issues.

Case after case shows that many employers attempt to get away with obtaining work from employees without paying the agreed-upon earnings. Some of the most common situations seen surrounding wage theft include:

  • Misclassification among employees
  • Incorrect standard pay calculations
  • Failure to compensate for hours worked off-the-clock
  • Deductions from employees that are not agreed to
  • Lack of overtime or double-time payments
  • Failure to pay out agreed-upon bonuses or commissions
  • When required to remain on-location, unpaid rest and meal breaks
  • Not paying at least the required minimum wage
  • Employees getting charged for supplies or uniforms necessary for the job
  • Lack of unpaid wages post-termination


There are some types of workers exempt from FLSA laws regarding overtime or the minimum wage. Some businesses misclassify workers on purpose to make them exempt from federal wage laws, or to edge their way around paying out overtime.


Any overtime earnings should go off of the worker’s standard pay rate, and some employers miscalculate this amount. The company can also neglect to include other types of typical earnings, such as regular bonuses.


Any time that an employer asks, expects, or allows an employee to perform work before or after their shift or typical work hours, and fails to compensate for that completed work, the worker could possibly pursue a case for those wages.


In the state of California, a business can only withhold deductions:

  • Once the worker authorizes pay deductions
  • Deductions for welfare, pensions, or health insurance
  • When federal or state laws require or allow it

Lack of Overtime or Double-Time Payments

Within the state of California, if a person is employed (not an independent contractor) for a business, they have the right to 1.5 times the typical wage they earn beyond 40 hours in a single week of work.

Failure to Pay Out Agreed-upon Bonuses or Commissions

Say a regular bonus or commission is part of an employee’s wage agreement when entering a position. If the employer fails to provide that income or calculate it into payroll, the worker has the right to those wages.

When Required to Remain On-Location—Unpaid Rest, and Meal Breaks

The stipulation of meals or rest might seem frivolous to some workers. However, if an employee is required to wear a particular uniform or if they must stay within the workplace for extended hours, they can be entitled to compensation for meals, rest, or possibly uniform wages.

Not Paying at Least the Required Minimum Wage

The federal minimum wage is the lowest an employee can get paid for employment in the state of California. Within many positions, companies in California must compensate for much higher than the regulated minimum wage.

Employees Getting Charged for Supplies or Uniforms Necessary for the Job

If you are required to wear a uniform for work, it can be in your binding agreement to furnish your attire for your position. However, if the job requires a particular uniform supplied by the company, and they do not compensate, a worker may be entitled to wages.

Lack of Unpaid Wages Post-termination

Even if an employee gets terminated from a position within a company, in California, that employee still has rights to the payment expected for hours worked before termination. Regardless of whether a company or firm no longer employs a worker, they are entitled to the earnings for the hours they worked before leaving.

Our Unpaid-Wages Lawyer Can Help If You’re a Victim of Wage Theft

Workers employed in the state of California, you will be protected by not only by the Federal Labor Standards Act but also by California employment legislation.

Everything from meal breaks to overtime pay falls within these precedents, and a current or former employee could have rights to non-exempt job classifications, salary, and hourly wage queries.

If an employee failed to receive compensation for the time they put into working for a company or did not receive wages at the expected times of at least twice monthly, they might be entitled to compensation.

What is the Process of a Wage Theft Class Action?

Unpaid income suits vary from standard class actions. Both the FLSA and the state of California regulated creating hour and wage violation class actions (also called collective actions).

When an employee asserts wage theft or hour abuses, they should first seek out any colleagues who also experienced similar violations, as declared by the FLSA. After a claim gets filed, conditional certification will come from the court. After that, the plaintiff needs to deliver notices to others who could possibly become class action members.

The plaintiff can receive assistance from the court to enable this step to proceed smoothly. The court does this by entreating organizations to make class action opt-in notices and forms available at the place or places of business, along with contact information.

What to Do If You Were Not Compensated for Work

California workers will occasionally find themselves thinking, what should I do if my employer does not pay me? If an employee or former employee believes they experienced wage theft from either hourly or salary earnings, they should take action in the following areas:

Look for payday information in the workplace. California employment laws require employers to post information regarding the days that workers get paid, the expected time, and in which form employees will receive compensation.

Ensure a work agreement in writing. If a worker still works for the firm or any other company, they should get a written commitment from the company regarding pay and the wage agreement.

Act quickly if pursuing a case. If an employee or former employee wants to file a civil claim, they need to keep in mind that statutes of limitations exist between two and four years for back wage claims. Getting counsel with an employment and wrongful termination attorney is one of the first steps to take.

Contemplate another place of employment. Wage theft is a deal-breaker for most workers in a position, even if they felt committed to the company. Years of education or training, hard work, and providing an employer with a valuable service are all worth receiving fair wages in return. A company failing to pay employees their expected earnings is also a sign of financial problems for the employer.

Reach out to an attorney who handles unpaid wages. Employment attorneys with years of experience in not only learning the laws regarding wage theft or delayed income payments but also handling real cases can provide some of the most credible advice.

An employee has more ground to stand on when they obtain accurate information about wage laws in both California and at the federal level. An unpaid wages attorney can advise on a worker’s specific situation and aid them in filing a claim for deserved income.

File a claim with the help of a lawyer for unpaid wages. Getting an unpaid wage attorney can give workers the most expert and straightforward route to filing a civil claim at either the state or federal level. For wage theft for all types of workers in California, the claim will likely be with the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE).

Get the Wages Owed to You with the Help of Our Unpaid Wages and Overtime Lawyers

As victims of wage theft, workers have a right to the agreed-upon earning for their hours of hard work. Obtaining legal advice is the first step toward recouping your losses. Our lawyers can assist with legal counsel as well as filing civil claims for unpaid income, late wages, and getting overtime pay.

When to Contact an Unpaid Wages and Overtime Lawyer

If you are an employee (current or former) to a company and believe you have unpaid wages due to you or your income is consistently later than the designated payment schedule, contact us today. It’s not typically in your best interest to wait long if you plan to file a claim.

Our unpaid wages and overtime lawyers have years of experience and expert knowledge in unpaid wages or overtime hours and even offer free consultations. Our team can guide those seeking their hard-earned compensation through the case evaluation and the subsequent legal process as painlessly as possible.