How to Win a Wage Claim in California

how to win wage claim

California has a robust set of laws that protect workers’ wage rights.

The California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement⁠ (DLSE) is the state-level agency that handles wage claims made by California employees.

The law allows for several options for an employee to win a California wage claim.

If you are having trouble getting your final pay from your old employer, you need skilled and knowledgeable California wage loss lawyers to fight for your rights and win your unpaid wages in California.

What Is a California Wage Claim?

You have three options to force your employer to pay the compensation you deserve:

  • File a civil lawsuit,
  • File a claim with the federal governmental agency, and
  • File a wage claim with the DLSE.

Filing a wage claim with the DLSE is usually the easiest and cheapest option. Here are some examples of what wage theft may look like:

  • Paying less than minimum wage per hour;
  • Not paying agreed-upon wages (this includes overtime on commissions, piece rate, and regular wages);
  • Not accruing or not allowing employees to use paid sick leave;
  • Not paying promised vacations or bonuses;
  • Not paying split shift premiums;
  • Not paying final wages in a timely manner;
  • Making unauthorized deductions from your pay;
  • Not allowing employees to take meal breaks, rest breaks, and/or preventative cool-down breaks;
  • Owners or managers taking tips;
  • Not reimbursing employees for business expenses; or
  • Having paychecks bounce.

If you have experienced any of these scenarios from your current employer or a past employer, then you can file a California wage claim with the DLSE. 

If you think you’ve experienced lost wages and a labor law violation, Ottinger Employment Lawyers can review your case for to determine whether you have a case. You don’t pay unless we win.

How to File a California Wage Claim

You can initiate a wage claim by filing a claim form with the DLSE office via email, by mail, or in person.

DLSE requires that you submit copies of documents that help support your claim and provide evidentiary proof of what your employer owes you.

Here is a list of certain documents that you will want to include for common wage claims:

  • Time records;
  • Paychecks and pay stubs,
  • Bounced paychecks;
  • Notices from the employer regarding your employment information such as your rate of pay, any overtime rate of pay, your regular payday, and whether you’re paid by the hour, shift, day, week, salary, piece, commission, or otherwise;
  • Collective bargaining agreement, if applicable;
  • Worksheets showing irregular hours worked, unpaid commissions, unreimbursed business expenses, unpaid vacation time, etc.; and
  • The name and contact information of your attorney, if you have one.

For more details on how to win your lost wages in California, speak to our knowledgeable employment attorneys.

Contact Us Schedule your flat-rate consultation. Schedule your consultation today.

What is the Wage Claim Statute of Limitations in California?

There are time limits within which you have to file your wage claim or you will be forever barred from seeking reimbursement of the owed compensation.

Which time limit applies depends upon the circumstances of your case:

  • One year for penalties regarding a bounced check or failing to provide access to, or a copy of, payroll or personnel records;
  • Two years for an oral promise to pay wages higher than the minimum wage;
  • Three years for violations of minimum wage, overtime, unpaid rest and meal breaks, sick leave, illegal deductions from pay, or unpaid reimbursements; and
  • If you have a written employment contract, four years from the date of the breach of the terms of that contract.

The bottom line is that you shouldn’t wait too long to get the money that’s owed to you. The sooner you file a California wage claim complaint, the sooner you can win.

What Happens After You File a Wage Claim?

After the agency receives all the pertinent documents, it will schedule a settlement conference between you and the employer.

You have to attend this conference, or DLSE will dismiss your claim. During the conference, you’ll discuss the issues with an agency representative.

If the matter can be resolved, a settlement agreement is drafted and signed by both parties.

If an agreement cannot be reached, then a wage claim hearing will take place at a later date. Again, if you fail to attend the hearing, your wage claim will be dismissed.

Although the hearing is informal, you and the employer will still testify under oath and submit evidence. If necessary, witnesses can testify as well.

You can expect a decision from the Labor Commissioner who oversaw the hearing within approximately 15 days. The entire process, from filing a claim to conducting a hearing and receiving a decision, can take several months.

Ottinger Employment Lawyers Are Here to Help Get the Wages You Earned

Filing a claim for owed wages and other benefits can be pretty complicated.

The California wage claim lawyers at Ottinger Employment Lawyers are here to fight for your rights to receive the full and fair amount of money you earned. We know how to win a wage claim in California.

In fact, we have successfully handled hundreds of California wage claims for our clients over the past 20 years.

Please contact us online or call 866-435-5066 for immediate help.

For details about our Los Angeles office, click here.

For details about our San Francisco office, click here.

Author Photo

Robert Ottinger, Esq.

Robert Ottinger is an employment attorney who focuses on representing executives and employees in employment disputes. Before starting his firm, Robert slugged it out in courtrooms trying cases for the government. Robert served as a Deputy Attorney General for the California Department of Justice in Los Angeles and then as Assistant Attorney General for the New York Attorney General’s Office in Manhattan.

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