California Wage Theft: Understanding Your Rights as an Employee

California Wage Theft: Understanding Your Rights as an Employee

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Table of Contents
  1. California Wage & Hour Protections
  2. Understand Your Wage and Hour Rights

Millions of Americans live paycheck to paycheck, without even emergency savings. It’s stressful and frustrating to work full time and still never feel secure in your finances, have the flexibility to splurge on a little something extra, or just know that you can buy new tires or fix your washing machine. It’s worse when you discover that you aren’t getting paid everything you’re owed.

California Wage & Hour Protections

Both federal law and California state law provide a wide range of protections for California workers. In most situations, California law provides greater protection than federal labor law. Some of the key protections include: 

  • Minimum wage requirements
  • The requirement that employers pay higher rates for overtime
  • Mandatory meal breaks and rest periods

Though most people are generally aware of these protections, not every violation is immediately recognizable. For example, your employer may pay the statutory minimum wage, but still commit minimum wage violations. That’s because the minimum wage law requires the employer to pay at least that amount for all time that you work.

Many employers cut corners, cheating employees out of just a few minutes each day.

Some examples include: 

  • Requiring employees to arrive 15 minutes before a shift starts, but not allowing them to clock in until the official starting time
  • Prohibiting overtime, but requiring employees to stay until certain tasks are completed, leading to unpaid work at the end of the day

Those minutes add up. Imagine, for example, that a worker is paid the Los Angeles minimum wage of $15/hour. The employee is scheduled to work 9:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. with a half-hour lunch break, meaning an 8 hour day. But, the employer wants to be sure everyone is ready to start work at 9:00 sharp, so requires that employees arrive by 8:45 and punch in exactly at 9:00.

At $15/hour, that extra 15 minutes of unpaid work is worth $3.75/day. But, in this case, the extra 15 minutes is also overtime. That means it should be compensated at $22.50/hour, not $15. That means the worker is losing $5.62/day, or $28.12/week, to not clocking in on arrival.

That’s more than $1400 lost in a single year.

In a large company, the employer may save hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars each year through small violations like this one.

It’s easy to see how unpaid work time or work compensated as straight time rather than overtime costs the employee money. Missing a meal break may seem different, even if you know those breaks are required. But, in fact, those missed lunch and dinner breaks are worth money, too. 

California Meal Break Law

Under California state law, employers are required to offer a meal break within the first five hours of a work day, and another break before the end of the 10th hour. You may know you’re entitled to those breaks–at least, the first one. But, you probably don’t know that California law also requires employers who fail to provide those breaks on schedule to pay for one extra hour of work time. 

If a Los Angeles worker puts in a regular eight-hour workday at $20/hour, but isn’t offered the opportunity to take a meal break during that time, the employee is owed an additional $20 for each day the meal break isn’t available. If it’s an everyday occurrence, that employee should be paid an extra $100/week, or $5,200 per year. That’s a 12.5% increase in annual income.

That’s a lot of money to lose. But, the amount the worker is owed may be even greater. That’s because if the company doesn’t pay for that extra hour, the employee may be entitled to recover additional compensation–compensation that may double the amount due, or even more. The same is true for some other types of violations like the ones described above.

Understand Your Wage and Hour Rights

California is a very labor-friendly state. In most areas, state law provides more robust protections than federal law, and wage and hour statutes are written to ensure that it’s easy and worthwhile for workers to assert their rights. In addition to the penalties described above, employers found to have committed certain types of violations, such as minimum wage violations, can be ordered to pay the worker’s attorney fees. 

Unfortunately, some practices–such as requiring employees to work late off the clock or failing to offer a second meal break–are so common and the violations so blatant that you may not be sure whether you’re entitled to compensation.

Consult a California wage and hour attorney right away if you are:

  • Missing meal breaks without being paid an extra hour,
  • Being required to work more hours than you’re paid for, or
  • Being paid straight time for hours in excess of eight per day, 40 per week, or on a seventh consecutive day

If you’re unsure of whether or not you may have a case on your hands, get in touch with us to set up a free consultation.