Employees in the United States are protected by federal laws as well as state laws. If you believe that your employer has not paid you due wages or shortchanged you by violating wage and hour laws, you can file a lawsuit to recover your unpaid wages. However, workers who have been victims of wage theft have to file an unpaid wage claim within a certain amount of time.
These legal actions are bound by what is known as the "statute of limitations" or the deadline by when they must be filed. This is why it is important to contact an experienced California unpaid wages lawyer who will fight to protect your rights and win fair compensation for your losses.
Deadline to File Under Federal Law
The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires employees to file a wage lawsuit within two years of the date of the wage violation. If the wage violation is something that is ongoing, you will only be allowed to recover unpaid wages for the two years before you file your claim. For example, if you are claiming that your employer has failed to pay you minimum wage since Jan. 1 2016 and you wait until June 1, 2019 to file your lawsuit, you will only be allowed to seek unpaid wages from June 1, 2017 to June 1, 2019.
If your employer willfully violated federal wage laws, then your deadline to file will be extended to three years. An FLSA violation is deemed to be "willful" if the employer knew or should have known that their conduct was prohibited under labor laws or if the employer showed reckless disregard as to whether their conduct was prohibited under the law.
Deadline to File Under State Law
States have their own wage and hour laws. California has strong protections for workers in this regard. In California, employees have three years to file a lawsuit with regard to most wage violations. An experienced California employment lawyer can help ensure that your statute of limitations doesn't run out. Once that happens, you may not be able to file a lawsuit or seek compensation for your losses.
In California, for most wage violations including minimum wage, overtime and meal and rest break violations, you must file your claim within three years of the violation. If your employer's wage violations were ongoing, the state's Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) will look back three years from the date you filed the claim. If your wage claim is based on your employer's oral promises to pay you more than a minimum wage, you will have only two years to file a claim. However, if you had a written contract with your employer, you have four years to file your claim.
A knowledgeable attorney can help you file a wage claim or lawsuit well before the deadline and help ensure that your claims under state and federal laws are preserved. When you file your claim without delay you will also be more likely to have access to witnesses and documents who can help support your claim.
Claim Versus Lawsuit
When your employer violates the FLSA, you will be able to file a wage claim with the U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division. But, it is important that you file your claim before the two-year statute of limitations expires. When you do so, you'll have sufficient time to file a lawsuit, should you not be able to resolve your claim through the agency's administrative process. In California, you can also file a wage claim through the Department of Labor.
Consulting with an Experienced Lawyer
If your employer owes you unpaid wages, it is imperative that you consult with an experienced unpaid wage lawyer who can identify the specific wage laws your employer has violated. A lawyer can also help ensure that your claim or lawsuit is filed before the statute of limitations runs out. Call Kingsley & Kingsley today to schedule your free consultation and comprehensive claim evaluation.