You deserve to be paid the wages you earn. California hour and wage laws require employers to compensate employees for all time they work. If your employer fails to pay your wages, you can file a wage claim with the California Labor Commission.

How to File a Claim with the California Labor Commission

Wage and hour claims may be filed with the Labor Commission online. You may also file a wage claim in person, by mail, or by email. The Labor Commissioner’s Office investigates when you file a claim. 

Wage claims must be filed within one year if the claim involves failing to provide access to copies of personal or payroll records or involves a bounced check from the employer. You have two years to file a wage claim for breaking an oral promise to compensate you at a rate higher than minimum wage.

Claims allegation violations of the following laws have a three-year filing deadline:

  • Overtime
  • Minimum wage
  • Unpaid reimbursements
  • Sick leave
  • Unpaid rest and meal breaks
  • Illegal deductions from pay

Wage claims involving a written contract have a four-year filing deadline. You can download the Initial Report or Claim form for a wage claim here.

Gather Evidence and Documentation 

Track all hours worked for your wage claim. Write down when you take meal and rest breaks. Keep copies of all pay stubs and other statements related to your pay.

When you submit your wage claim, you must submit supporting documents. The documents you must submit include:

  • Time records
  • Paychecks and pay stubs
  • Bounced checks
  • Notice of employment information
  • Collective bargaining agreement

You could be required to complete additional documents for your claim. For example, the commissioner could request you complete a worksheet if you work irregular hours, are owed unpaid commissions, claim unreimbursed business expenses, or have unpaid vacation time. 

The more documentation and evidence you can present proving that your employer owes you wages, the better for your claim. 

Settlement Conference

Generally, a settlement conference is held by a deputy labor commissioner. If you do not attend the settlement conference, your wage claim will be dismissed unless you can show reasonable cause why you did not appear at the scheduled conference.

If your employer does not appear, the deputy labor commissioner may proceed with the settlement conference. If you and your employer reach an agreement, a settlement agreement is prepared for all parties to sign.

Accepting a settlement offer can provide a quicker resolution to the wage claim. However, a hearing is scheduled if you and your employer cannot settle the claim. 

If you do not attend the hearing, your case will be dismissed. If your employer does not show up, the hearing officer decides the case based on the evidence filed.

During a hearing, you may present evidence and testify on your behalf. Witnesses may also appear and testify about the wage claim. In addition, you can question your employer and any witnesses your employer presents.

The hearing officer has 15 days to make a final decision and file an order. If you win, you can proceed with actions to collect your judgment

Either side may appeal the hearing officer’s decision. The Superior Court hears appeals. 

Filing a Lawsuit In Civil Court for a Wage Claim

You may also file a lawsuit in civil court for a wage claim. Civil court cases have some advantages. 

For example, you can demand unpaid wages for four years instead of three years. You can also demand attorneys’ fees and costs of the civil court case. Generally, the statute of limitations for wage claims is three years from the date of the most recent violation. 

The damages you might receive depend on the specific type of wage claim. For example, the damages for failing to provide rest and meal breaks is one hour of wages for each break the employer failed to provide. However, a claim for unpaid wages may result in the back wages and interest on those wages. 

Wage claims may involve issues related to:

If you file a wage claim and your employer retaliates against you, you might have an additional claim under California labor laws. Employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees for exercising their legal rights. 

Employer retaliation can include wrongful termination, demotions, and other forms of adverse treatment because you filed a wage claim. An employment lawyer can review your case to advise you of your rights and legal options.

To learn more, call our San Diego law firm at (619) 693-7727 or contact us online.

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About The Author

Nicholas J. Ferraro

Nicholas J. Ferraro is a skilled labor and employment lawyer and the founder of Ferraro Vega Employment Lawyers, Inc. Based in San Diego, he focuses on representing employees in class action and collective litigation cases. Education: Mr. Ferraro attended the University of San Diego School of Law, where he was a member of the San Diego Law Review. Experience: Over a decade of legal practice, representing more than 100,000 employees. Court Admissions: Mr. Ferraro represents his clients throughout the State of California and the State of Washington. He is a member of the State Bar of California. Community Involvement: Active member of the California Employment Lawyers Association and the San Diego County Bar Association.