Wage theft is a serious problem for unsuspecting employees and more common than you might think. As a California employee (excluding outside salespersons and immediate family members of the employer), you are entitled to the minimum wage and in many cases, overtime (meal and lodging agreements aside). Overtime must be paid when the employee works over 8 hours in a day or 40 hours in a week unless they are salaried. For hours worked in excess of 8, through and including the 12th hour, employees must be paid one and a half times their regular rate. Any hours worked over 12 in a day are to be paid out at double the regular rate of pay as are any hours worked in excess of 8 on the 7th consecutive work day.
Taking advantage of their need to earn extra money, Employers will often offer overtime hours to employees at less than the legal rate. This is illegal and an employee agreeing to work at the reduced rate does not cancel out the violation. For instance, Jimmy works Monday through Friday, eight hours per day. Recently, work has picked up and Jimmy’s boss offered him a Saturday shift if he would work for straight time (his regular rate of pay). Jimmy, in need of the extra money and afraid his boss will give the shift to someone else or fire him for asking about overtime pay, agrees to work. For the next 6 months, Jimmy works the 6th shift but never gets paid time and a half. Jimmy’s boss is stealing from him and Jimmy is owed that money. The good news is that Jimmy is not without recourse. In addition to filing a wage claim with the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE), an employee may bring a more complicated claim to court. The DLSE also presides over wage related retaliation claims, so if Jimmy gets fired for complaining or his hours get cut, he has options. The time to file a claim at the DLSE or in court varies and it is prudent to speak with an attorney to learn and protect your rights.
Failure to pay minimum wage or overtime are the most common examples of wage theft but there are many other ways that employers steal from their employees. Employers frequently avoid reimbursing employees for business expenses as well as prevent them from taking their lunches and breaks. Remember that if you complain about these issues, it is illegal for your employer to retaliate against you but you must take action promptly. The most vulnerable employees are usually the most likely to fall victim to wage theft. If you or someone you know is owed wages, contact an attorney for a confidential free consultation. Knowing your rights and filing a timely claim is critical to ensuring justice prevails in your workplace. Your money should be in your pocket!