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Unpaid Work Violations in California

For hourly employees in California, there are extensive legal protections that are provided in the California Labor Code. One of the ways that employers routinely violate these laws is by having you or your coworkers work “off the clock.”

Legally speaking, these are known as unpaid work violations. In California, it is generally illegal for employers to ask or require you to work off the clock, unless certain exceptions apply. Still, understanding how these laws work and what you can do if your rights are violated is crucial.

Let Maison Law Protect Your Workplace Rights

At Maison Law, our team of experienced and dedicated California employment lawyers believes that every worker deserves to be treated fairly. This includes being paid correctly for the work that they perform. When your employer tries to go around these laws, we can help you hold them accountable. If you believe that this is happening to you, contact us today for a free, no-obligation consultation.

What is Unpaid Work in California?

As the name suggests, “unpaid work” refers to work that you or other employees perform for your employer but aren’t paid for. Unpaid work can take different forms, such as:

  • Working “off the clock” – This occurs when an employee is asked or required to work before or after their scheduled shift, without being compensated for that time.
  • Missed meal and rest breaks – California law requires that employees be provided with uninterrupted meal and rest breaks. If an employee is asked or required to work during these breaks, they must be compensated for that time.
  • Misclassification – Employers may misclassify employees as independent contractors or exempt employees to avoid paying them for all hours worked, including overtime.
  • Waiting time – This occurs when an employee is required to wait for work-related tasks, such as waiting for a customer or a delivery, but is not compensated for that time.
  • Training time – If an employee is required to attend training or meetings outside of their normal work hours, but is not compensated for that time, this is considered unpaid work.
  • Pre-shift and post-shift activities – Activities such as changing into work clothes, setting up equipment, or cleaning up after work may be considered work time under California law.

Whenever you go to work in California, as long as you’re an hourly employee, you have significant legal protections as it relates to these unpaid work violations. Still, it’s important to understand how the law applies to your specific situation.

California Law and Unpaid Work Violations

It bears repeating that California law requires you to be paid for any work you perform, except under limited circumstances. These usually include you being classified as an intern or volunteer, but generally speaking, your employer can’t ask or require you to work off the clock or perform unpaid work. Specifically, the California Labor Code provides the following protections for workers as it relates to their wages and hours:

  • Minimum wage – Every employee in California must be paid at least minimum wage. California’s current minimum wage is $15.50 per hour, with certain cities and counties in California having higher minimum wage rates.
  • Overtime pay – California law requires employers to pay overtime to non-exempt employees who work more than 8 hours in a day or 40 hours in a week. Overtime pay in California is one and a half times the employee’s regular rate of pay.
  • Meal and rest breaks – California law requires employers to provide meal and rest breaks to non-exempt employees. Employees are entitled to a 30-minute meal break for shifts longer than 5 hours and a second 30-minute meal break for shifts longer than 10 hours. Employees are also entitled to 10-minute rest breaks for every 4 hours worked.
  • Recordkeeping – California law requires employers to keep accurate records of their employees’ hours worked, including overtime, meal and rest breaks, and other working conditions.
  • Pay stubs – California law requires employers to provide employees with itemized wage statements that show their gross wages, hours worked, deductions, and other information.
  • Unpaid wages – Employers must pay employees for all hours worked and are not allowed to ask or require employees to work off the clock or perform unpaid work, except under very limited circumstances.

With these protections in place, you are guaranteed to be paid for any work you perform. At the same time, though, there are a number of ways your employer can try to get around these laws. In those situations, you should consult with our team of California employment lawyers as soon as possible to get a full understanding of your options.

Steps You Can Take For Unpaid Work Violations in California

When your employer tries to violate your wages or hours, it can be extremely frustrating. Not only is it a basic right, but it can have serious financial consequences for you and your family. Thankfully, there are a few steps you can take if you believe your employer isn’t paying you correctly or is trying to force you into unpaid work. These steps include:

  • Keep accurate records – With wage and hour violations, it’s especially important to keep track of all the hours you work, including overtime, meal and rest breaks, and any other unpaid work. Make sure to keep paystubs, timecards, and other documentation that will show how you were paid and the hours you work. Then, compare it to your own timekeeping records to see if there are any discrepancies.
  • Talk to your employer – If you believe your employer has made a mistake, you can speak with your employer to try to resolve the issue. Once you present them with your evidence and documentation, you may be able to work out a payment plan or reach an agreement with your employer.
  • File a complaint with the Labor Commissioner’s Office – Usually, the best course of action after wage and hour violations is to file a complaint with the California Labor Commissioner’s Office. The Labor Commissioner’s Office is responsible for enforcing the labor code and will investigate your complaint and can order your employer to pay you the wages you are owed.
  • File a lawsuit – As with any violation of your workplace rights, you can file a lawsuit against your employer in court if they have violated your wage and hour rights. Our team can guide you through the process and can help you make sure you get the wages you’ve been cheated out of.
  • Join a class action lawsuit – Chances are, if your employer has violated wage and hour laws, it’s likely that they’ve done so to not just you, but other employees as well. At that point, you may be able to join a class action lawsuit, which allows multiple employees to sue their employer together for the same violation.

Statute of Limitations

Filing a claim for unpaid wages or unpaid work violations has certain requirements, the most important of which is the statute of limitations. A statute of limitations is simply the deadline by which you can actually file a lawsuit in civil court. In California, unpaid wage claims have a three-year statute of limitations from the date of the violation. This means that if you fail to meet this deadline, you won’t be able to pursue an unpaid wage claim against your employer, regardless of whether or not you can prove that your rights were violated.

Don’t Let Your Employer Violate Your Rights

One of the most basic rights you have as an employee in California is to be paid correctly by your employer. Still, some employers feel the need to try to force you to work without pay. At Maison Law, we believe strongly in the legal protections that every employee has in California and won’t rest until you are able to recover the wages you’re owed. Don’t let your employer get away with violating your rights, contact us today to set up a free, no-obligation consultation to get the recovery process started.

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