California Unpaid Wage Laws


All Californians are entitled to fair wages for the labor they perform for employers. In this context, labor refers to the services rendered by the employee for an employer. There are a number of different ways in which employees are compensated for the work they do. Some are paid hourly and others work for fixed salary. Some employees such as salespersons work for commissions and others who work on a contract basis may get paid per project. The word "wages" also includes other benefits employees receive as part of their compensation packages such as sick time, vacation pay, room, board, health insurance and so on.

The Right to Wages

Under California laws, every worker is entitled to receive fair wages regardless of their immigration status. Employees may be paid what was agreed to in a contract or they may be paid under the California Labor Code.

Contract wages: Many workers in California accept employment at a wage that is promised to him or her under a contract. This is a binding agreement between the employer and the employee. In most cases, the promise to pay wages assumes the form of a formal written contract. However, an oral agreement is also enforceable when it comes to earned wages.

Wages under labor laws: California's Labor Code sets forth the right for employees to earn wages including minimum wage and overtime wages. It is important to distinguish that while wages are paid to employees, independent contractors receive payments for work performed under a contract. Such compensation is not considered as a "wage." But, when an employee is wrongly classified as an independent contractor, he or she is entitled to be paid the wages that are required under the law.

When Must Wages Be Paid?

California law also imposes requirements regarding when employees should be paid. Most California employees must be paid at least twice a month. Employers must set up regular paydays for their employees and let employees know clearly when they will get paid. Under California law, wages earned between the 1st and 15th day of the month must be paid between the 16th and 26th day of the same month.

Wages earned between the 16th and the last day of the month must be paid between the 1st and the 10th day of the following month. According to California overtime laws, wages for overtime earned during the work period must be paid no later than the regular payday for the next work period. Exempt employees, typically those who work in administrative or supervisory roles, may be paid on a different schedule such as once a month.

When Are Final Wages Due?

When an employee is provided with a final paycheck depends on whether he or she was fired or quit. When an employee is fired, he or she must be paid all wages earned up to and including the date of termination on the day of termination. When an employee quits and gives at least 72 hours notice, they must be paid on their last day. Employees who quit without giving notice must be paid their final notice within 72 hours after their final day of work. The final check must also include the employee's unused vacation time.

Penalty for Unpaid Final Wages

When employers willfully fail to pay final wages in full or on time, California law provides for a waiting time penalty. This provides an incentive for employers to ensure that employees are promptly paid for their work. The waiting time penalty consists of a full day of wages for each day the payment is delayed. It continues to accrue for as much as 30 days after the employee leaves. The penalty is calculated by multiplying the employee's daily wage rate by the number of days that the payment is delayed, up to a maximum of 30 days. When a paycheck bounces or is rejected, a penalty of one day of additional wages for each day the check is not satisfied continued for a maximum of 30 days.

Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA) Claims

In some cases, the employer may fail to pay wages in full or on time and the employee continues to work for the employer. In such a situation, the waiting time penalty doesn't apply. However, the employer may be liable for statutory fines. If an employer fails to pay employees' wages as required under the law, they are subject to a civil penalty.

For any initial violation, employers must pay $100 for each failure to pay each employee. For every subsequent violation or any willful violation (deliberately failing to pay wages), the employer will face $200 for each failure to pay each employee in addition to 25% of the amount that was unlawfully withheld. These penalties must be paid to the state of California. But, an employee can recover up to 25% of the penalty by bringing a lawsuit under the Private Attorneys General Act, also known as PAGA. Such claims are known as PAGA claims.

An employee may bring a PAGA claim by filing a civil lawsuit against his or her employer. If the employee is successful with the lawsuit, the court may award them 25% of the penalty due under the law in addition to attorney's fees, court and litigation costs. Many Los Angeles employment attorneys take such cases on a contingency fee basis, which means they don't take any fees until you recover compensation. The attorney's fee is typically a percentage of your compensation amount.

Contacting an Employment Lawyer

If your employer has not paid you wages due or has delayed payment of wages, you may be able to resolve the dispute informally with your employer, file an unpaid wage lawsuit in court or bring an administrative claim for unpaid wages and penalties. It would be in your best interest to seek the counsel of an experienced unpaid wages lawyer before deciding how you wish to proceed in your case. For more information about pursuing your legal rights, call the knowledgeable unpaid wage attorneys at Kingsley & Kingsley. We always offer free, initial consultations and a No Win, No Fee guarantee. Call us at 888-209-8927 to find out how we can help you.


Obtain Your Free Case Evaluation

Our unpaid wage lawyers will take the time to thoroughly review your situation to determine if your employer is treating you fairly. If action is needed, we will act on your behalf, contacting your employer and moving the case forward if he or she does not amend the situation. Call 888-500-8469 or fill out our contact form to speak with one of our legal professionals for free.

Need Help? We're Here For You.

If your employer is not paying you your owed wages, we're here to help. Contact us today to receive a free unpaid wages case evaluation and get your questions answered.

Kingsley & Kingsley
16133 Ventura Boulevard, Suite 1200
Encino, CA 91436
(818) 990-8300