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Employment Wage and Hour
You deserve to get paid. In fact, laws enacted at the federal level, as well as in California, require employers to pay workers for every minute punched on the clock.
Unfortunately, far too many employers violate state and federal employment wage laws. From failing to pay overtime to a team of construction workers to holding tips from workers in the hospitality industry, many employers do not follow the most basic standards for compensation and the number of hours worked.
If you worked for an employer that has cheated you out of your hard-earned pay, you should contact a California employment attorney to determine the best course of action. Although you should come away from this page better informed about California and federal employment wage and hour laws, an experienced employment lawyer can provide the guidance you need to get paid what you deserve under the law.
Considered by many employment attorneys to be the gold standard for labor laws, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) became law at the height of The Great Depression to level the legal playing field between workers and employers. Some of the legal issues covered by the FLSA include the minimum wage, overtime, and minimum age requirements for workers. Most states have enacted employment wage and hour laws that mirror the legal structure of the FLSA. However, many of the states enacting FLSA-like employment wage and hour laws have established higher minimum wages and/or tougher legal sanctions for employers that violate overtime statutes.
Federal employment wage and hour law requires employers to pay workers a minimum wage of $7.25. Because tipped employees earn money outside of an hourly wage, the federal minimum wage for tipped employees currently sits at $2.13. The United States Congress last raised the federal minimum wage in July of 2009. Some political observers believe the federal minimum wage might go as high as into the double digits before the end of 2021. Employers must pay workers under the age of 20 a minimum of $4.25 per hour for the first 90 days of employment. The first 90 days of employment include both days worked and days not worked.
According to the FLSA, employers are not limited to how many hours in a day or a week they can require employees to work. Nonetheless, employers must compensate employees for every hour worked after 40 hours at an hourly rate that is one and a half times the regular hourly rate. The time and a half rate applies to every hour worked over 40 hours during the same workweek. Employers define when a workweek starts and when a workweek ends. The only common element is a workweek constitutes seven consecutive days.
The FLSA does not establish a minimum number of employees for an employer to have a legal obligation to follow the statutes written into the federal employment wage and hour law. Many states have filled the legal void by establishing a minimum number of employees standard for compliance with state employment wage and hour laws.
Penalties for Violating Federal Wage and Hour Laws
Enforcing the FLSA falls on the collective shoulders of investigators that work at the Wage and Hour Division. The investigators collect data concerning hours, wages, and any other employment practice and condition that determines compliance with the provisions written into the FLSA.
Employers that commit willful violations of the FLSA can face a fine as high as $10,000 for each violation. Repeat willful offenders of the FLSA might receive a conviction for a criminal offense. Violations of child labor statutes can cost an employer up to $10,000 for each employee that is covered by child wage and hour laws. Employers that willfully violate overtime and minimum wage requirements face a civil penalty of up to $1,000 for each violation. For example, an employer that fails to pay the minimum wage to 20 workers can face a cumulative penalty of up to $20,000.
As with many other areas of law, California has established some of the most worker-friendly employment wage and hour laws of any other state.
California sets the minimum wage based on the size of an employer. For 2021, employers that have up to 25 workers must pay a minimum wage of $13.00, while employers with more than 25 employees pay $14.00 for a minimum wage. When the calendar turns to 2023, California plans to eliminate the size criteria for employers by mandating all employers to pay a minimum hourly wage of $15.00. Coincidentally, $15.00 is the minimum wage mentioned in United States congressional labor committee meetings.
Although the FLSA and some states give employers the right to pay tipped workers at a lower minimum wage, California continues to include tipped employees for coverage in the state’s general minimum wage law. California employers that have tipped workers n their payroll must pay the workers the same full minimum wage that other types of employers pay their workers.
Californians that work more than eight hours in a day or 40 hours in a week must receive overtime pay. How California employment wage and hour law differs from the FLSA regarding overtime is that in California, a worker that works more than 12 hours in a day receives double time for every hour worked after 12 hours. Not every type of job qualifies workers for overtime pay in California.
Workers in California must receive a 30-minute, unpaid break after working five consecutive hours. The same employee who took a 30-minute, unpaid break after five consecutive hours of work is eligible for another 30-minute, unpaid break after five more consecutive hours of work. An employee can decline the second unpaid break if the employee took the first 30-minute unpaid break. Employees also get to take a paid rest break after every four hours worked.
Penalties for Violating California Wage and Hour Laws
California law imposes some of the strictest penalties for wage and hour violations in the country. If you win a civil lawsuit for unpaid wages, you receive the compensation withheld from you by your employer, as well as any punitive damages your employer has to pay.
The money that you seek in unpaid wages is technically referred to as “monetary damages.” Financial penalties tack on in addition to unpaid wages are considered “punitive damages.” Also called back wages, unpaid wages often derive from the term “working off the clock.” An employer promises an employee to pay cash for compensation, as long as the employee does not punch the time clock. Employers use this deceitful practice to avoid paying state and federal taxes.
An employer found guilty of withholding wages must pay back the wages at the hourly rate the worker should have earned times the number of hours the employer held in back pay. For example, a worker that earns $15.00 per hour and had 25 hours of pay withheld should receive $375.00 in unpaid wages. The key to winning a back pay claim is to maintain accurate records of when you worked “off the clock,” as well as obtain at least one witness account verifying you worked the unpaid hours that you claimed you worked.
Unpaid overtime wages work the same way as other types of unpaid wages. An employer must pay back the overtime pay at a rate of one and half times a worker’s regular rate of pay
By law, your employer must pay you the state minimum wage for every hour worked. If your employer failed to pay you the minimum wage, you have the right to seek liquidated damages. Liquidated damages, which a judge determines in a legal decision, cover the costs of the additional losses caused by getting paid less than the minimum wage. The complexity of liquidated damages revolves around proving how receiving less than the minimum wage adversely impacted your financial decisions.
For failing to pay the California-mandated minimum wage, an employer must make up the difference for every hour worked. Using the projected minimum wage for 2023, an employer that pays a worker $12 an hour instead of $15 per hour must make up the three dollar difference for every hour worked by the underpaid employee. If the employee worked 50 hours getting paid $12, the employer must pay the worker $150 in back pay and possibly $150 in liquidated damages.
On the day you get paid, your employer must provide you with a wage statement that lists things like the number of hours you worked, your hourly or salary rate, and the taxes deducted from your pay. If your employer presents inaccurate information or fails to provide you with a wage statement, you might qualify to receive compensation in the form of your employer’s financial penalties. Employers must pay a fine of $50 for the first violation and $100 for every wage statement violation after that. The maximum amount an employer has to pay for wage statement violations is $4,000.
FAQs About Employment Wage and Hour Laws
Because of rapidly changing statutes at the state and federal level, employment wage and hour laws can be difficult to understand. Before we dive into the details of employment wage and hour laws, let’s answer five common questions asked to employment attorneys by their clients.
Both state and federal laws make it illegal for employers to withhold pay or fail to pay wages an employee has rightfully earned. However, withholding pay or failing to pay wages and salary represents one of the most common ways employers break employment wage and hour laws.
After you discuss the matter with your employer and your employer still refuses to pay you what you deserve, then you have the right to sue your employer in a civil court to collect rightfully earned unpaid wages. Before you file a civil suit against your employer for unpaid wages, speak with an employment lawyer to ensure you collect enough evidence to convince the judge presiding over your case to rule in your favor.
Some employers like to use the timeless excuse of “We cannot afford to pay you. If we do pay you, we’ll have to shut down the business.” If your employer uses that excuse or any excuse for that matter, you should simply request to be paid in full for what your employer owes you in wages or salary. You cannot be forced into kicking back any percentage of your wages because your employer demands that you do.
It does not matter if you quit or your employer fired you; employers must pay former workers owed money on their last paycheck. Even if your employer fired you for just cause, your employer must compensate you for hours you worked up to your last day on the job. Moreover, your employer cannot add any conditions for you to receive your last paycheck.
If you receive a paycheck and your hourly wage has declined without your employer letting you know about the wage reduction, then your employer has violated an employment wage and hour law. Employers that cut pay without informing their employees have committed a breach of contract. On the other hand, your employer can cut your pay if you learn about the pay cut before receiving a paycheck with the pay cut, as well as if your employer did not cut your pay because of discriminatory reasons.
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Taking the Next Step, Contact an Employment Lawyer who specializes in Wage and Hour Claims
The financial compensation granted to an employee that wins a wage claim and/or civil lawsuit can run into the thousands of dollars. You also have the right to ask your employer to cover the cost of court and attorney fees as well. With all that money at stake, it makes sense to get the legal support of an experienced California employment attorney who specializes in handling wage and hour cases.
Your lawyer will conduct a thorough review of your case to determine how to proceed. You can expect your employer to have legal counsel, which means it is important to gain legal representation to argue your case. Your attorney ensures you file the right paperwork before each deadline, as well as helps you gather and organize persuasive evidence for when you file a claim and/or a civil lawsuit.