How Far Back Can You Claim Unpaid Wages in California?

Have you recently learned that your current or former employer did not pay you all of the wages and income you’ve earned? Have you known for a while that something was off about your paychecks, but just learned about your wage rights?

Unfortunately, sometimes California employers violate the law in various ways. Maybe overtime pay is missing or you are not allowed the required meal and rest breaks. Depending on how long you have worked for the unfair employer, you could be entitled to thousands in unpaid wages.  

Is There a Limit on How Far Back an Unpaid Wages Claim Can Go?

California law limits how far back an employee can seek unpaid wages. You can file a lawsuit against a current or former employer if they failed to pay you all the money you earned. 

Depending on the circumstances, an employee has up to four years to file an unpaid wages claim.

The timelines for unpaid wages claims in California are as follows:

  • One year for penalties relating to bounced checks or failure to provide access to, or a copy of, employee payroll records
  • Two years for a verbal promise to pay wages in excess of minimum wage
  • Three years for claims related to minimum wage, overtime pay, rest and meal breaks, sick leave, illegal deductions from paychecks, or unpaid reimbursement for business expenses
  • Four years for a written contract for work

Failure to file within the appropriate timeline can permanently bar your right to recover the money you are owed. To learn about whether you have an unpaid wage claim, you can talk to an employment law attorney. 

What is Included in an Unpaid Wages Claim?

Of course, hourly wages times hours worked would be included in an unpaid wage claim. 

Other pay could be included as well, such as:

Independent contractors are not able to claim unpaid wages, but may be able to sue for breach of contract if they are not timely paid. An experienced employment law attorney can help you add up all of the pay that qualifies for your unpaid wages claim. 

How Do I Prove an Unpaid Wages Claim?

An attorney can help you prove your claim with testimony and documents. 

The kind of documents that can be used to prove unpaid wages claims includes:

  • Timecards, timesheets, or other logs of an employee’s working hours
  • Paychecks and pay stubs
  • Bounced paychecks 
  • Notice of employment information

If you are subject to a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), you will also need to have a copy of that. 

It is ok if you do not have all of these records. A skilled employment law attorney can help you get the copies of the documents from your employer through a process called discovery. 

What Happens After I File an Unpaid Wages Claim?

After filing your wage claim, you will be required to gather and submit supporting documentation. The documentation is used to validate the claim for unpaid wages. 

Next, the parties will participate in a settlement conference. If a claimant fails to attend the settlement conference, their unpaid wage claim will be dismissed. In many cases, an agreement is reached at the settlement conference and no trial is needed.  

If no agreement is reached, a wage claim hearing is held. If a claimant does not attend the wage claim hearing, the unpaid wage claim will be dismissed at this stage.  An attorney can help you gather and present the documents to prove your wage claim at the wage claim hearing. 

If you think your employer has violated the law in some way, and has not given you the money you deserve, click here to know how we can help you.