Written by: John Dalton
| Read Time: 4 minutes
How Do I Recover Unpaid Wages in California

Wage theft is a real and significant threat to the American workforce. And, unfortunately, the employers are doing the stealing. This is an uncomfortable reality, but California law protects its workers in many substantial ways. We can show you how to get back the compensation you are owed and help you do it. 

At the Law Office of John Dalton, we are passionate about shielding California workers from bad employers, and we have an unparalleled track record of success in the employment law field. Backed by decades of legal practice and knowledge, we can help make sure that you get paid.

California’s Wage Payment Laws

According to a report by the Economic Policy Institute, between 2017 and 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor recovered more than $3 billion in wages stolen from employees. Many employers shortchange their workforce by subtly (or not so subtly) breaking state and federal wage payment laws. The State of California has a series of strong laws requiring timely and full payment for each employee, and we outline those laws and what you should expect below.

How Long Can an Employer Not Pay You in California?

Not only should your paycheck reflect everything that you earned during a pay period, but that check should also arrive on time. And the amount of time your employer can take to deliver your paycheck depends on your work situation.

Timing requirements for active employees

In California, employers typically must adhere to at least a bi-monthly payment schedule. One or more of the following pay schedules likely applies to your employer:

  • If you earn wages between the first and fifteenth day of the month, your employer must pay you by the twenty-sixth day of the month; 
  • If you earn wages between the sixteenth and the last day of the month, your employer must pay you by the tenth day of the next month; or 
  • If you are paid more than twice a month, or your pay periods land on days different from the first, fifteenth, sixteenth, and last day of the month, your employer must pay you within seven days of the end of your pay period. 

Also, your employer has to pay you your overtime wages by the next pay period after you earned overtime. 

Timing for final paychecks

If your employer fires you, you are entitled to receive your paycheck immediately. But if you voluntarily leave your position, when you receive your paycheck depends on how you quit. In general, employees who give at least 72 hours’ notice of their departure must receive their paychecks at the time they leave. And quitting employees who do not give at least 72 hours’ notice are not entitled to receive their payment earlier than 72 hours later. There are some exceptions to these rules that you should discuss with a knowledgeable wage and hour attorney.

If there is any dispute about how much you earned during a pay period, your employer cannot withhold your entire paycheck if the entire amount earned is not disputed. In other words, employers that disagree with wage amounts must timely pay their employees the amounts that are not in question.  

What Are My Minimum Wage and Overtime Rights?

Non-exempt employees in California are entitled to minimum wage and overtime. The minimum wage in California is $15.50 per hour, but it can be up to $18.15 an hour, depending on where in California you live. And if you are a non-exempt employee and work more than eight hours in a day, 40 hours in a week, or six consecutive days in a week, your employer must pay you between 1.5 and 2 times your regular pay rate for the excess working time. 

Some employers try to shirk these payment responsibilities by misclassifying their employees as independent contractors. No matter the title your boss gives you, you are not an independent contractor unless the following three factors apply to your work relationship: 

  • You perform work that is outside of your boss’s usual course of business; 
  • Your work is free from the control and direction of your boss; and 
  • You customarily engage in an independent business, occupation, or trade that is the same as the work you do for your boss. 

Employers might also illegally misclassify you as an independent contractor to avoid providing unemployment, workers’ compensation, or insurance benefits. 

What Are My Rights If My Employer Doesn’t Pay Me? 

How do you recover unpaid wages in California? If your employer fails to comply with California’s wage laws, you can file a civil lawsuit or a wage claim with the California Labor Commissioner’s Office. In a wage complaint, you can recover the payments you are owed and penalties. An employer that violates the law may have to pay between $100 and $200 plus 25% of withheld wages per violation. The amount of the penalty is on the higher end of this range when an employer’s noncompliance is willful. To maximize your damages, you should consult with an attorney about your case. 

The Law Offices of John Dalton Can Help

When you work hard, you should be paid accordingly. And the Law Office of John Dalton can ensure that happens. John Dalton has been representing employees for more than 26 years, and he has won some of the largest verdicts in the State of California. If you need a passionate advocate, give our office a call at 858-720-8422 or contact us online. 

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    “I highly respect John and his dedication and integrity. You will not be disappointed.” John Dalton went to work for me and delivered great results. I wasn’t sure what to do and when I found John, he explained everything nicely and he was able to get me the settlement I truly deserved. He was easy to work with and I always felt like I was kept in the loop - it was really fantastic service all around. - Steve K.
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