Written by: John Dalton
| Read Time: 5 minutes

How are unpaid wages calculated in California? This question is crucial for employees seeking compensation for wage theft. Employers use several techniques to give their employees less compensation than they are entitled to. California and federal laws allow employees to recover unpaid wages and punish their employers for wage theft. The method for calculating unpaid wages depends on how your employer withheld your pay. To confirm that you receive all the compensation you are due in an unpaid wages complaint, speak to an experienced employment attorney at the Law Office of John Dalton. 

What Are Unpaid Wages? 

An unpaid wage claim arises when your employer refuses to pay you for your work. An unpaid wage claim can also occur when your employer violates state or federal labor laws subtly. Additionally, an employer commits wage theft if it refuses to pay you wages (including vacations and bonuses) according to the terms of your work agreement.

Moreover, unpaid wage claims can encompass various scenarios beyond direct payment issues. For instance, if you find yourself working off the clock, being denied overtime pay, or facing unlawful deductions from your paycheck, these too can constitute valid reasons for filing an unpaid wage claim. These situations highlight the importance of understanding the intricacies of labor laws to ensure your rights are protected.

Federal Wage Laws

The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) demands that employers pay their non-exempt employees at least $7.25 per hour. FLSA also requires employers to pay non-exempt employees 1.5 times their regular rate of pay for any time they work more than 40 hours in a workweek. 

Unpaid Wage Laws in California

If a state sets wage laws that are more favorable to employees than FLSA’s requirements, employers in that state must comply with the state laws. Fortunately, California’s wage laws are far more generous than federal wage laws in several ways.  

Minimum wage

In California, the minimum wage is currently $14.00 per hour for employers with up to 25 employees and $15.00 per hour for employers with at least 25 employees. In 2023, the minimum wage will increase to $15.50 per hour for employers of all sizes. Depending on the city where you work, you might be entitled to an even higher minimum wage rate. For example, employers in Los Angeles must pay their employees at least $16.04 per hour. 


Unlike under federal law, there are tiers to California’s overtime pay requirements. Employers are generally required to pay 1.5 times an employee’s pay rate if the employee works more than 40 hours in a workweek. But the pay rate increases depending on how an employee exceeds 40 hours of working time in a week, and employers must pay overtime premiums for hours that exceed daily caps. 

The following overtime pay rates apply to these overtime scenarios in California: 

  • For hours worked in excess of eight hours but less than 12 hours in a workday, an employer must pay 1.5 times the employee’s rate;
  • For the first eight hours worked on the employee’s seventh consecutive workday in a workweek, an employer must pay 1.5 times the employee’s rate;
  • For hours worked in excess of 12 hours in a workday, an employer must pay twice the employee’s rate; and 
  • For hours worked in excess of eight hours on the seventh consecutive workday in the employee’s workweek, an employer must pay twice the employee’s rate. 

There are some exceptions to these rules. If you are contemplating filing a wage theft complaint, you should discuss with an attorney what pay rates you are eligible for under California law. 

Meal and rest breaks 

An employer can also rob you of compensation when it does not provide adequate meal and rest breaks at work. 

In many cases, an employer cannot require you to work more than five hours a day without giving you a meal break that lasts at least 30 minutes. And you usually must receive a second 30-minute meal break if your shift is more than 10 hours. These meal breaks are unpaid unless your employer requires you to be “on duty” during your break. In addition to meal breaks, an employer must provide employees with ten-minute rest breaks for each four hours worked. 

Timely pay

Not only are you entitled to be paid in full, but you also have a right to be paid timely. The following pay schedules apply to your work: 

  • You should be paid by the 26th day of the month for wages you earned between the 1st and 15th day of the month;
  • You should be paid by the 10th day of the following month for wages you earned between the 16th and last day of the month; 
  • You should receive your payment within seven calendar days of the end of each payroll period if your payroll periods do not occur between the 1st and the 15th day of the month and the 16th and the last day of the month. 

You should receive overtime pay by the next regular payday. And if your job ends voluntarily or involuntarily, your employer must provide your final paycheck immediately after a firing or within 72 hours of quitting without notice. 

Other types of wage theft

Other ways an employer can commit wage theft include:

  • Misclassifying an employee as an independent contractor to avoid labor code requirements;
  • Failing to pay reporting time pay;
  • Making an unauthorized deduction;
  • Failing to pay split shift premiums;
  • Keeping any portion of an employee’s tip;
  • Not allowing an employee to accrue or use sick leave; 
  • Failing to reimburse an employee for a business expense; 
  • Bouncing a paycheck; and 
  • Failing to provide an employee with timely access to personnel files and payroll records.

Contact an attorney if you suspect you are not receiving your full compensation under any of the circumstances we mentioned. Our experienced employment law attorney can file a wage theft lawsuit in court or a wage claim with the Labor Commissioner’s Office. 

How to Calculate Unpaid Wages in California

To obtain the most accurate calculation of your unpaid wages in California, speak to a knowledgeable employment attorney about your case. A calculation can involve ensuring you are paid the correct rates according to your employment agreement and California’s minimum wage and overtime laws. If your employer denies your right to breaks, you must receive an additional hour of pay every day a break is denied. And if you are not paid timely, your employer may be subject to a waiting time penalty. You might also be entitled to punitive damages if your employer’s violation of the law is exceptionally bad. 

Speak to the Law Office of John Dalton Today

It’s essential to recognize that the burden of proof often lies with the employee when pursuing an unpaid wage claim. This underscores the significance of maintaining meticulous records of your work hours, compensation agreements, and any communication with your employer regarding wages. Such documentation bolsters your case and serves as a testament to your dedication in seeking the wages you rightly deserve.

In some instances, employers may attempt to mislead employees about their rights, leaving them unaware of the compensation they are entitled to. This can further exacerbate the issue of unpaid wages. Seeking legal counsel not only empowers you with the knowledge of your rights but also acts as a deterrent to such unethical practices, promoting a fair and just work environment for all.

Remember, pursuing unpaid wages is not just a matter of financial compensation; it’s a stance for upholding the principles of fairness and equity in the workplace. By addressing unpaid wage claims, you advocate for yourself and contribute to the larger cause of ensuring that employers uphold their legal and ethical obligations to their employees.

John Dalton has over 25 years of experience advocating for employees harmed by their employers. John practices law to ensure big companies and employers do not trample upon the rights of California’s workforce. He has had unprecedented success representing employees in employment disputes, and he wants to help you.

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