Steps for filing a wage claim in California

Employers commit wage theft in a number of ways, such as not paying minimum wage or overtime, refusing to give rest or meal breaks or failing to follow other wage and hour laws.

If you experience any of these infractions, you can submit a claim with the California Department of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE). Here is an overview of the process.

Types of claims filed

While employers often violate federal wage and hour laws, California laws typically provide more protections for workers, meaning claims are generally based on state law. Wage claims include violations, such as:

  • Not being paid overtime
  • Being paid less than the minimum wage
  • Not receiving rest or meal breaks
  • Unpaid vacation time
  • Unauthorized deductions
  • Unpaid tips and commissions

How does the process work?

To file a claim, you or your attorney must fill out an “Initial Report” (DLSE Form 1) with details about yourself, your employer, your work schedule and the violations you experienced. You may have to file additional forms if:

  • Your work schedule is irregular, or work hours vary
  • You were not paid for vacation time
  • You were not paid commissions that you earned
  • Your employer retaliated against you

Documents to include

The DLSE asks for documentation to back up your claim. While you do not have to attach these to the complaint itself, these include:

  • Pay stubs during the period of your claim
  • Time cards or other records showing hours worked during this period
  • Bounced checks from your employer
  • Copy of the “Notice to Employee” document you received when you were hired

The DLSE asks your employer for these documents as well, so you don’t necessarily have to provide them with your claim. However, you should attach any employment contract that shows your pay rate as promised by the employer.

What is the deadline to file?

Three deadlines exist for filing claims. You must submit a claim within three years for most wage violations. The DLSE will also review the past three years from the date of your claim if the infractions were ongoing.

However, if your claim is based on an employer’s oral commitment, you only have two years to file. You have four years if the claim is based on a written contract. Contacting an experienced employment law attorney as soon as possible will help ensure that your claim is filed correctly and on time.

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