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4 types of unpaid wage claims in California

You worked hard to earn your wages -- don't let your employer keep them from you. California has some of the strongest wage and hour laws in the world, and compared with federal wage laws, California law offers more protections for employees. But, as California's minimum wage has steadily climbed in recent years, more and more employers have failed to compensate their employees appropriately.

If your employer has violated your wage and hour rights, you may have grounds to take back what your employer owes you.

1. Timely payment

Employers are required to pay outstanding wages owed to an employee within 72 hours of the employee's last shift. Otherwise, the employer must give the employee an additional day of pay at the employee's regular rate for each day the worker does not receive the final wages due. If an employer does not pay waiting time or has kept an employee waiting for an unreasonable amount of time, the employer may face penalties.

2. Unpaid overtime

California law requires employers to pay 1.5 times the employee's regular rate of pay for all hours worked beyond 8 hours on any workday. The employer must also pay the employee 1.5 times the regular rate for all hours on the seventh consecutive day in a workweek.

An employer is also required to pay double the employee's regular rate of pay for any time worked beyond 12 hours on a single workday.

As of Jan. 1, 2018, the minimum wage in California is $11.00 per hour for workers at businesses with 26 or more employees, and $10.50 per hour for workers at small businesses with 25 or fewer employees.

3. Right to meal and rest breaks

California state law allows employees to take meal breaks lasting at least 30 minutes if the employee has worked more than five hours in a single work day. If the employee works more than 10 hours in a day, an additional meal break lasting at least 30 minutes must also be allowed.

Rest breaks are based on the total hours an employee works in a day. These breaks must be allowed at the minimum rate of a net 10 minutes for each 4-hour period of work.

4. Misclassifying employees

Some employers may try to misclassify an employee as "exempt" or as an "independent contractor" to dodge California overtime laws. If an employee is labeled "contractor" or "exempt" but retains the exact same responsibilities and privileges of a "permanent employee," there may be a case against the employer for misclassification.

It may feel scary to force your employer to compensate you correctly through the courts. However, there are laws in place that will keep your place of work from retaliating against you for speaking up about wage/hour law violations you experienced. For those who haven't taken action on an incident from the past, the California statute of limitations allows for an employee to file a wage and hour lawsuit three years from the date that the most recent violation happened.

If you haven't taken up an unpaid wages lawsuit because you're worried about the expense, California law requires employers to pay all attorney's fees in a successful suit. Contact an attorney with an understanding of California's complex and ever-changing wage and hour laws to understand whether you are entitled to back pay or other compensation.

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