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Rand L. Stephens & Richard Koss

Filing a Wage Fraud Claim in CA: Best Option to Recover Money?

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California and federal law require your employer to pay you fairly. Labor laws set a minimum wage, overtime requirements, meal and rest breaks, and other rules your employer must follow. If your employer has been violating the labor law or otherwise failing to pay you what you are owed, you could have a wage fraud claim. Continue reading to learn about filing a wage fraud claim in California and how to ensure you get paid what you are owed. Call a seasoned California wage and hour attorney with any questions or for help with an employment-related matter.

What Is a Wage Fraud Claim?

Employee wages are protected by California and federal law. Non-exempt workers are entitled to a minimum hourly wage, overtime and double-time pay, and meal and rest breaks throughout the workday. Employers who fail to pay a minimum wage, fail to pay an employee the proper rate for overtime work (1.5x or 2x, depending on how many hours were worked), or who otherwise violate the labor laws in order to underpay their workers, are liable for their actions. If your employer is paying you less than minimum wage, if they are forcing you to work unpaid through your meal and rest breaks, or if they are forcing you to do “off the clock” work such as by calling you back in after clocking out, they are essentially stealing from you.

Employees who have been underpaid and denied wages they are owed by law and contract have the right to fight back. They can file legal claims against their employer either in court or through a state or federal agency, identifying the unlawful conduct and seeking the wages owed and other possible penalties.

It’s important to keep in mind that wage fraud requires proving an intent to deceive the employee. Most wage and hour issues, while wrongful, are due to non-compliance rather than fraud. Even if there is no fraud involved, however, an employer might still be guilty of non-compliance, and employees can still recover money they are due for those wage violations.

How to Recover Your Wages Through a Fraud Claim

If your employer is violating labor laws and failing to pay what you are owed, you have a few options. Specifically, you can do any of the following:

  • File a claim with a federal employee protection agency
  • File a claim with California’s Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE)
  • File a civil claim in court

There are advantages and disadvantages to each approach. On the whole, in California, we’d recommend either pursuing a lawsuit in court or filing a claim with a California state agency. While federal agency enforcement can be effective, federal enforcement is, naturally, based on federal law. California law tends to be much more protective of employees than federal law. For example, California’s minimum wage ($15.50 in 2023) is much higher than the federal minimum wage ($7.25). Basing your claim on California law gives you a better shot at winning your case and may open up the doors for a much larger recovery.

Talk to an experienced California wage fraud attorney to discuss whether you would benefit most from filing a claim with the state employee protection agency or instead pursuing a civil lawsuit. In many cases, going to the DLSE is an easier, cheaper option. The DLSE can pursue claims involving overtime violations, unpaid wages, wage fraud, and other wage and hour issues, and you are entitled to have an attorney represent you at any hearings and other proceedings. Agency procedures tend to be faster, cheaper, and less complex than a full lawsuit.

Depending upon your circumstances, however (such as if you also have claims pertaining to discrimination or unlawful termination), you might benefit from pursuing a lawsuit. Your labor law attorney can help you evaluate your options, build your case, and seek maximum recovery. Whatever your plan, make sure to act quickly–if you wait too long, you could lose out on your right to collect any damages.

If you are a San Francisco employee or employer in need of advice or representation concerning wage and hour violations, retaliation, whistleblower protections, workplace discrimination, or other California labor law issues, contact the Bay Area employment law attorney Richard Koss at 650-722-7046 on the San Francisco Peninsula, or 925-757-1700 in the East Bay.

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