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Wage Theft In California: What You Need To Know

wage-theft-california-laws.pngEmployees are suing the McDonald's restaurant chain for failing to pay workers the federal minimum wage, failing to pay overtime and failing to give workers breaks that federal law requires.

The class action lawsuit argues that McDonald's is responsible for how its franchise owners pay employees, since the restaurant giant provides the overtime tracking software to franchise owners, which the employees allege intentionally reduces overtime pay. McDonald's isn't the only employer that may be stealing from its employees, either. According to Next City, California state agencies have found over $4.2 million in wage theft, and the culprits still haven't paid most of this amount.

California is Stepping Up to Protect Workers from Wage Theft

Because of the rampant wage theft throughout California, the state has become more aggressive in its fight to combat this awful crime against employees. In 2012, the Wage Theft Protection Act went into effect, and has since offered greater protections to California workers and changes the way that they are notified of basic employment information.

Berkeley, California is also responding to employee wage theft on a local level by passing a wage theft ordinance that forces contractors to update the city about how many hours their workers have accrued, and how much the employer has paid them. This is because contractors (like construction contractors) are one of the groups responsible for the most wage theft in California.

Signs of Wage Theft

Some employees do not realize that they are the victims of wage theft. If your employer does not pay you at all, it is easy to notice that something is wrong. But if your employer pays you, yet you suspect that they are not paying you all of the money that they owe you, this could also be a sign that they are stealing your wages. If you suspect wage theft, begin documenting the hours you work every day to ensure you receive the correct pay.

If your employer says that you are a contractor and not an employee, you may want to check with a California employment lawyer or the Department of Industrial Relations (DIR) to see if this is true. If you have a permanent job with your employer and you don't invest money in the business, you are probably an employee. But if you are an employee and your boss makes you work through breaks, they may owe you an hour of pay for each day that you don't get your break. Additionally, if your employer keeps your last paycheck, or fails to pay you all of the wages you have earned after you finish working for them, this is a violation of your employee rights and a different form of wage theft. If this occurs, you may have the right to back pay for money that your employer has witheld.

Federal and California Employment Laws Protect You from Wage Theft

Wage theft is a crime in California. Federal laws, including the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), as well as California employment laws, like the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), establish rights for workers to receive a minimum wage, breaks, overtime and other benefits. California's minimum wage is currently $10, and will increase by $1 per year until it reaches $15 per hour in 2021. Employees have a right to receive overtime if they work more than 8 hours per day or more than 40 hours per week. If your employer doesn't pay you the whole amount that they owe, you may want to contact the California Department of Labor Standards and Enforcement (DLSE).

If the state of California orders your employer to pay you the wages they owe and they refuse, then your employer is guilty of a crime. The Wage Theft Prevention Act actually makes it a misdemeanor for an employer to fail to pay wages that the Department of Industrial Relations (DIR) orders them to pay.

Wage Theft in California: For Further Reading

  • California SB 588: Full Bill Text
  • California Becomes More Aggressive in Fight Against Wage Theft via SHRM.org
  • Wage Theft Protection Act: Frequently Asked Questions via State of California Department of Industrial Relations
  • What is Wage Theft? via UCLA Labor Center

If you notice signs that you are a victim of wage theft in California, rest assured that state and federal laws can protect you from this unlawful employer behavior. Contact the expert Los Angeles employment attorneys at Hennig Ruiz for your free consultation today.

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