In the blockbuster film Back to the Future, Marty McFly takes Doc Brown’s souped-up DeLorean for a little spin that leaves McFly seemingly stuck 30 years in the past. McFly experiences several misadventures during his time in 1955, but he does accomplish one thing that can help employees get compensated for back pay.
You can truly go back in time.
Back pay is a legal thorn in the side of many employers. Whether your employer simply forgot about a raise or intentionally defrauded you of rightful overtime pay, you have the right to go back in time and collect on your employer’s labor debt.
Overview of Back Pay Law in California
Back pay is all about receiving compensation that you have the legal right to obtain. Look at back pay as your employer’s debt for your labor. Unpaid wages can include miscalculating overtime pay or inaccurately adding the hours that you worked the previous week. The California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) recalculates back pay claims and then the agency informs workers whether they qualify for back pay.
Back pay typically covers violations of California wage and hour law for the following reasons:
- Underreporting of overtime
- Unpaid meal breaks
- Failing to pay the proper minimum wage
- Misclassifying exempt workers
- Unpaid sick leave
- Illegal payroll deductions
- Failing to reimburse employees for job-related expenses
- Forcing one or more employees to work off the clock
Overtime Back Pay in California
California requires employers of all sizes to pay overtime wages for employees that work more than eight hours a day. Employers must pay overtime to employees that work more than eight hours a day, regardless of whether the employer authorized the overtime.
Several court rulings have placed the legal responsibility for tracking hours worked on the employer, not the employee. This means it is up to employers to prevent employees from working more than eight hours on the same day.
California employment wage and hour law also requires employers to pay overtime to workers that exceed 40 hours of work during the same workweek. The more than 40 hours must accumulate over seven consecutive days, with the employer establishing when a workweek starts and when a workweek ends. The pay rate for overtime in California is one and a half times the regular rate of a worker’s pay.
Employers violate California overtime pay law in two ways. First, an employer can miscalculate the number of hours an employee worked, which prevents the employee from reaching the eight hours per day or 40 hours per workweek threshold to receive overtime compensation. Second, an employer might pay overtime at the regular rate earned by a worker to avoid the higher hourly wage rate.
Minimum Wage Violations
If your employer failed to pay the minimum wage established by California law, then you might qualify to receive liquidated damages in addition to getting the back pay you deserve for your employer failing to pay you the correct minimum wage. Some employers bank on workers not knowing about the California minimum wage, which is almost twice the minimum wage required by the United States Department of Labor.
Liquidated damages are not easy to quantify because they cover the costs associated with subminimum wage pay. For example, a worker receives a substandard minimum wage, which causes the worker to miss a utility bill payment date. The missed utility bill payment date becomes a blemish on the worker’s credit report, as well as forces the utility company to demand a higher deposit.
Let’s say your employer paid you $12 an hour when the employer should have paid you the California minimum wage of $14 an hour. You can prove that you worked 120 hours over two pay periods, which means your employer owes you $240 in unpaid wages and possibly an extra $240 in liquidated damages.
Statute of Limitations to File a Back Pay Claim
You have a certain amount of time to file a claim for unpaid wages. You have between two and four years to file a back pay claim based on a contract. If you agreed to an oral contract, you have two years to file a back pay claim. Signing a written contract gives you four years to file a back pay claim. For back pay claims that do not involve an oral or a written contract, California workers have three years from the date of the most recent back pay violation to submit the proper paperwork.
A California employment lawyer can help you file your back pay claim in an efficient manner, as well as present convincing evidence that you have the legal right to receive unpaid wages in California.