Both federal and California employment wage and hour laws protect workers against employer abuses such as not paying the minimum wage and failing to compensate properly for overtime work. Although the wage and hour laws grant California workers several protections, the laws do not enforce the protections until a worker files a wage claim.
As a type of complaint workers file against their employers, a wage claim represents a relatively simple process that allows workers to demonstrate their employers violated one or more provisions of state and/or federal law.
California workers have three options for filing a wage claim against their employers.
Three Options for Filing a Wage Claim
Life is full of choices and like most decisions, choosing the wrong option can hurt you financially when filing a wage claim against your employer.
Here are the three option that you have to file a wage claim in California:
- File a lawsuit in a civil court
- File a wage claim with the United States Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division (WHD)
- File a wage claim with the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE)
For many workers, filing a claim with the DLSE is the easiest option. However, does the easiest option mean that it is the best option? Consulting with a California employment attorney can help you decide what option works best for you.
File a Lawsuit in Civil Court
You have the right to seek monetary damages for unpaid wages by filing a lawsuit in a civil court. Civil lawsuits in California typically unfold inside a superior court, which is a different procedure than if you file a wage claim with the WHD or DLSE. However, both approaches share a few similarities.
Both processes involve hearings that allow both the worker and the employer to present evidence and legal arguments. Lawsuits tend to be much more expensive and time-consuming. State and federal employment wage and hour laws reduce the risk a worker has when filing a claim with a government agency.
Filing a civil lawsuit does not make sense for wage claims that do not seek a significant amount of money. If your claim includes a significant amount of money and the legal issues involved seem complex, then a civil lawsuit brought by your employment lawyer might be the best wage claim option for you.
File a Wage Claim with the WHD
Enacted by the United States Congress, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) creates and enforces workplace rules that cover employees across the United States. The FLSA establishes the federal minimum wage, as well as the number of hours required to qualify a worker to receive overtime pay.
Although filing a wage claim with the WHD might convince your employer to settle the dispute, you might not get the same amount of back pay that you would get by filing a claim with the California DLSE.
California leads the nation in passing the most worker-friendly employment wage and hour statutes of any other state.
File a Wage Claim with the DLSE
Filing a wage claim with the DLSE can grant a worker a larger amount of back pay. California has established a minimum wage of $13 for small employers and $14 for large employers, with both figures almost doubling the federal minimum wage of $7.25. Worker protections in California concerning wages and hours are stricter than the worker protections granted by federal employment wage and hour statutes.
Filing a claim with the DLSE offers several benefits:
- The DLSE has the legal power to issue subpoenas
- The DLSA has the legal power to force employers to submit documents
- The DLSA has the legal power to require employers to pay fines
- Employees have the right to legal representation at a DLSE hearing
If you want to file a wage claim with a government agency, focus your energy on filing a claim with the DLSE.
The Bottom Line
Hiring an experienced employment attorney is crucial for you to choose the best option for filing a wage claim. After reviewing your claim, your attorney might suggest that you file a wage claim with the DLSE.
Filing a wage claim with the DLSE instead of filing a civil lawsuit should be less costly and you should see a quicker resolution of your wage claim.
If your lawyer determines that your employer committed serious violations of California employment wage and hour law, then your attorney might decide to file a civil lawsuit. Whether your attorney decides to file a wage claim with the California DLSE or file a lawsuit in a civil court, you gain peace of mind knowing that you have the legal counsel you need by your side.