Understanding Your Right to Fair Wages

You Have the Right to be Paid for All Hours That You Work

logging work hours on a time sheetState and federal law both require that an employer pay you for all the hours you work. Most people are paid by the hour. Your employer cannot require you to do work but not pay you the hourly wage. That means your employer cannot require you to work from home to be a team player and not pay you for that time. That is not team playing; that is taking advantage of a teammate.

Similarly, your employer cannot require you to start working and then clock in or to keep working after you clock out. When an employer fails to pay the hourly wage for all hours worked, the employer violates both the California Labor Code and the United States Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Both laws have serious penalties, such as payment of all wages, payment of an equal amount of wages as a penalty, interest on your wages until you get paid, and payment of the lawyer fees necessary to collect that money on your behalf.

If your employer is not paying you for time worked, call our knowledgeable hour and wage attorneys in Sacramento. We offer a free consultation to discuss your claim and see what legal options may be available to you.

You Have the Right to be Paid Overtime When You Work Long Hours

If you work more than eight hours in a day, 40 hours in a week, or six days in a row, the California Labor Code requires your employer to pay you 150 percent of your regular hourly wages for those extra hours.

Under some circumstances, the employer may owe you 200 percent of your regular wages when the hours get very long. Just like with unpaid wages, an employer who violates this rule owes you the wages that should have been paid, an equal amount as a penalty, interest on the wages until you get paid, and payment of the lawyer fees necessary to collect that money on your behalf.

Federal law also requires overtime, but only after 40 hours a week. Depending on your individual circumstances and the county you work in, a lawyer can help you decide whether it is better to make your overtime claim under California law, federal law, or both.

Like with unpaid wages, an employer who does not pay for overtime is stealing from its employees and violating important state and federal laws. Courts take these violations very seriously. For example, in a lawsuit under federal law, a judge must sign off on any settlement of your unpaid wages to ensure that you get every dime you are owed.

You Have the Right to Take Meal and Rest Breaks

The California Labor Code requires that most employees be given a 30-minute meal break after five hours of work. Employees may be entitled to a second meal break on very long days. The employer must provide you with the 30-minute meal break on time. If an employee cannot take a meal break or does not take a meal break on time, the employer must pay an additional one hour of wages. This is called a premium.

Employers do have the right to punish or even fire employees who keep taking late lunch breaks. However, they must pay the premium no matter what. This is a tool the law uses to keep employers from making employees work through their lunch and then claiming that it was the employee’s choice. The employer also owes a premium if the employee is not provided with a full 30 minutes relieved of all duty. “Working lunches” at your desk or workstation do not count as lunch breaks.

Employees in California are also entitled to take a paid 10-minute rest break in an appropriate rest area (that is not a bathroom) in about the middle of every three and a half to four hours of work. If the rest area is a significant distance from the workspace, then travel time to and from the rest area cannot be counted against the 10 minutes. For example, if it takes four minutes to get to the rest area, so it is an eight-minute round-trip, the employer needs to provide an 18-minute rest Break.

An employer does not need to ensure that employees take their rest breaks. They only must make the rest break available. This means that winning rest break claims usually means that many employees must act together to prove that the employer pressures people not to take breaks. Just like with lunch breaks, if an employer does not provide the opportunity to take a rest break, affected employees are entitled to an extra hour of pay as a premium.

You Have the Right to be Paid on Time

The FLSA requires employers to pay employees on time. Failure to pay on time is treated as a violation of the minimum wage rules. Even if the employer ultimately pays the wages, the employer must still pay an additional amount equal to the late paid wages as a penalty. The employer must also pay for your legal fees necessary to collect those additional wages.

You Are Entitled to Accurate Pay Stubs

Both California and federal law require employers to maintain accurate records about how much you work and how much you are paid. In addition, they must provide you with an accurate pay stub that states:

  • Who your employer is
  • How many hours you worked
  • How much you were paid
  • What your hourly rate was for each category of pay
  • All withholdings (taxes, benefits, etc.)

California law imposes penalties against employers who fail to provide accurate pay stubs, which can add up to a substantial amount of money.

You Are Entitled to Complain About Your Pay Without Facing Retaliation

Both California law and federal law prohibit employers from retaliating against employees for complaining about their pay.

An employee’s protection against retaliation is highest if the employee complains in writing, especially if it is done through an attorney or government agency. However, even an email to human resources may be enough to protect an employee from retaliation.

If an employer demotes or reduces an employee’s pay in retaliation for complaining about pay violations, they can be subject to a wide array of financial penalties, including payment of lost wages, payments for the stress associated with losing a job, a penalty in an amount equal to the lost wages, and the attorney fees made necessary to collect your damages.

You Are Entitled to Collect Penalties Your Employer Owes to the State of California and Keep a Portion of Those Penalties

The California Labor Code includes a set of laws called the private attorneys general act.

These laws allow employees whose rights are violated to collect penalties of up to $200 per violation on behalf of the state and 25 percent of the penalty goes to the affected employee. The other 75 percent goes to the state.

The employer also must pay the attorney fees necessary to collect the penalties. When an employee files a claim under these laws, the employee collects penalties for all similar employees. For example, if one employee is denied a meal break, that employee may seek the penalties for every day he or she has been denied a break. Additionally, the employee may seek to enforce the penalties for all other employees who were also denied their meal breaks.

Sometimes the penalties stack up and become very large. For example, an employer who has employees work through their lunches, but changes the work records to make it look like they took their lunches, will have a failure to pay wages for all hours worked violation, a meal break premium, a bad paycheck report violation and private attorney general act violations for each of these things. The private attorney general act violations, sometimes called PAGA violations, will apply to each day, and each paycheck for each affected employee.

You Have the Right to Reimbursement of Your Expenses

The California Labor Code requires employers to pay for their own business expenses. If an employee is required to use his or her own vehicle, cellphone or is required to purchase materials for work, the law will usually require that the employer pay the employee back promptly for such expenses.

Failure to reimburse these costs can trigger a penalty and allow you to get your reimbursement using a lawyer the employer needs to pay for at the end of the case.

There Can Be Many Complications in Enforcing Your Rights

Although employees have substantial rights, sometimes it can be very complicated to enforce.

First, different deadlines apply for different rights. Some claims must be brought within one year, and additional claims may have two or three years. Employees who belong to unions may have very short timelines, sometimes as little as a week.

Second, some employees are exempt from some or all these rules. A lawyer can help you figure out which rules apply to you. Even if you are exempt from some of the rules, you may not be exempt from others. For example, outside salespeople who spend 52 percent of their time doing non-sales work may have rights under the California Labor Code but not under federal law. Salaried employees may not have overtime rights but are likely to still have reimbursement rights.

Third, although employees can lodge their own complaints with government agencies, those agencies do not always pursue all your rights, nor do they prioritize your claim to get it done quickly. Having your own attorney can help you get all the relief you are entitled to. An attorney may also get it faster than going through a government agency.

Since your employer must pay for your attorney at the end of the case, it is easier to hire an attorney for this type of claim than for other issues. You should never have to worry about paying a lawyer out of your own pocket to collect your wages.

Employers are used to being in charge. They often do not take employee complaints seriously because of the power difference in the workplace between manager and employee. Hiring an attorney can change that power dynamic so that your employer must listen. If they do not, an attorney can file a lawsuit on your behalf.

Some employers require employees to sign arbitration clauses that limit their rights to act. An attorney can help you review any such clause to see if it is enforceable and help you figure out how to preserve your rights. An attorney may be able to help even if your employer has imposed an arbitration agreement to keep you from obtaining justice.

Arnold Law Firm is Here to Help

The attorneys at the Arnold law firm are familiar with the many laws governing the simple proposition that a fair day’s work deserves a fair day’s pay.

Our attorneys are prepared to consult with you to see how we can help if you believe your employer has not paid you fairly.

There is no cost for our consultation, and when we take a case, we are paid at the end based on what we recover for you. We do not ask our clients to pay us out of their own pockets. We get that from the employer.

Call 916-777-7777 to schedule a free consultation.