What are Unpaid Wages?

Unpaid wages come in many different forms.  There are at least 11 different types of wages that California employees can earn:
  • Salary – a fixed amount of money, paid on a daily, weekly or monthly basis that does not increase or decrease based on the time you actually work or the quality of the work you perform.
  • Hourly pay – a fixed amount paid based on the total hours worked in a day.
  • Piece rate – a flat rate paid for completing a job or task or making a good or product.
  • Overtime – 1.5 times your regular hourly rate for working more than 8 hours in a day, 40 hours per week, or the first 8 hours on the seventh consecutive workday during the week.
  • Double time – 2 times your regular hourly rate for working more than 12 hours in a day or more than 8 hours on the seventh consecutive workday during the week.
  • Bonuses – money promised to an employee in addition to any other wages. This includes discretionary bonuses, non-discretionary bonuses and production bonuses.
  • Commissions – a percentage or fixed amount earned based on selling of a product or service.
  • Tips – any gratuity which has been left for an employee by a customer over and above the actual amount owed for the product or service.
  • Meal & Rest Break Premium – an additional hour of pay your employer must pay you when they fail to provide you with a meal or rest break.
  • Split Shift Premium – an additional hour of pay your employer must pay you for each day that you are required to report to work for two shifts that are separated by an amount of time longer than a meal break.
  • Vacation and paid time off (PTO) – the time your employer provides for vacation and paid time off.

What is Wage Theft?

Wage theft is another term used for unpaid wages that more commonly refers to the actual non-payment of wages.  Some examples of wage theft are:
  • not paying employees for overtime
  • not paying employees their final check after leaving the job
  • not paying employees for all the hours that were worked
  • not paying employees minimum wage
  • not paying employees at all
While wage theft is more prominent with low wage workers and undocumented immigrants, it is found in all industries regardless of wage rates or legal status.
According to a survey by the Economic Policy Institute, wage theft costs US workers billions of dollars each year.

When Must Wages Be Paid?

Payment of Wages During Employment

If you are still working for your company your wages must be paid when earned.  Once earned, your company generally must be pay your wages at least twice per month.  For most types of wages, they are earned when the work is performed.
For specific types of wages, they are earned after all conditions have been satisfied.
Wage Type:When Wages Are Earned:
SalaryA salary generally covers an entire week and is earned after any work has been completed during the week.
Piece RateA “piece” is earned when the task is complete or the product/good has been produced.
BonusA non-discretionary bonus is earned when all required conditions of the bonus have been met.
CommissionsA commission is earned when all required conditions to earn the commission have been met.
Paid Time OffPaid time off is earned according to your company’s policy. It does not have to be paid until it is exercised or you separate from your employer.

Payment of Wages after Termination or Resignation from Employment

If you are fired, your employer is required to pay you all unpaid wages immediately.  If, on the other hand, you quit, your employer must pay you all unpaid wages within 72 hours.
One exception to this rule relate to the payment of commissions earned but which are not ascertainable until a later date.  If you have earned a commission, but because of the way the commission is structure, the amount of the commission cannot be determined until after you have left, the commission is owed once the amount has been determined.

How Much Money Can You Recover For Unpaid Wages?

Employees who have not been paid their wages can recover tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid wages, penalties and interest.  These numbers may seem high, but because California is so protective of its workers, the consequences for employers that misclassify their employees can be steep. If you have an unpaid wages claim, your employer could also owe you:
  • Unpaid overtime penalties
  • Late payment penalties
  • Paystub penalties
  • Interest (10% per year)
Calculating how much you are owed in sometimes straightforward and can be calculated easily.  Other times it is less straightforward and requires an expert to assist in calculating the amount of unpaid wages, penalties and interest that is owed. This is especially true when commissions, bonuses and piece rates are involved.

How to recover your unpaid wages in a Wage Dispute

If you have an unpaid wages claim, it may be time to consider an unpaid wages lawsuit. You should act quickly.  The law only allows you to recover unpaid wages going back four years from the date you file your lawsuit.  And you can only recover penalties one year from the date you file a lawsuit.
Before meeting with a lawyer to discuss your unpaid wages claim, you can put together the following documents:
  • Time records
  • Work schedules
  • Paycheck stubs
  • Offer letters
  • Employee handbook
  • Copies of emails with your manager/employer regarding your working hours
  • Copies of emails with coworkers regarding working hours
  • Records of any complaints you’ve made
  • Contact information for coworkers and any other witnesses
  • Copies of any audio and/or video recordings that are relevant to your case
All the evidence you can provide will help your lawyer build your case and your unpaid wages claim.  But you do NOT have to have all the documents together before calling or meeting with an unpaid wages lawyer.

Talk to A California Unpaid Wages Lawyer

Not all attorneys are created equal.  Do you want someone that aggressively fights for you, that chases every last nickel your employer stole from you and who does not give discounts?  To have the best opportunity for success, you should hire an attorney experienced in unpaid wages cases.
These cases require experience and skill. Going up against your employer can feel daunting, but not if you have the help of a knowledgeable attorney by your side. Let us help.

Our unpaid wages lawyers are experienced in handling these types of cases.

Drew Lewis, PC, led by its lead trial attorney Drew Lewis, has years of experience representing employees who have claims for unpaid wages.
Drew has recovered millions of dollars for his clients.  He understands how employers try to hide the facts and how to prove unpaid wage cases.  And he does not give discounts to employers who have stolen from their workers.
We offer a free case evaluation. And you do not pay us unless we win your case.

Free Case Review

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.