Minimum wage laws exist to make sure that employers pay their employees a minimum hourly rate for the hours they work. In California, as of Jan. 1, 2023, the minimum wage is $15.50. However, it is important to note that several cities, including Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Jose have higher minimum wages. In such situations, employers should pay their workers whichever rate is higher. Your employer is required to pay you the minimum wage in most situations and cases.
Are There Exceptions to the Minimum Wage?
Almost all employees have the right to a minimum wage in California with few exceptions. For example, if you work for your spouse, parent or child, you do not have the right to minimum wage. Other close relatives are still protected by law and are entitled to at least a minimum wage. Workers who are learning a new skill and who have no related experience may also be paid at a reduced rate of 85% of the minimum wage, but only for the first 160 hours of work. They must be paid the minimum wage after they gain that experience and have acquired the skill to do the job.
Can an Employee Agree to Work for Less Than the Minimum Wage?
An employee may not agree to work for less than the minimum wage. Paying an employee the minimum wage is an obligation of the employer and employees cannot waive that right including through collective bargaining agreements. Also, there is no distinction made between adults and minors when it comes to the payment of minimum wage. Both are entitled to the amount that has been set by the jurisdiction.
What to Do If You Are Not Being Paid the Minimum Wage
If you are being paid under the minimum wage, here are a few steps you can take:
Talk to your supervisor.
If your pay is under the minimum wage, your first step should be to report it to your employer or supervisor. You should inform them that they are required to pay the minimum wage so that they know you are aware of your rights. However, if your employer is being unresponsive you still have a number of legal options.
File a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor
If you are not being paid the correct minimum wage, you have the option to file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division. If your employer has violated the law, you may be entitled to collect back pay, which is the money you are owed in unpaid wages - or money that you would have earned had you been paid the correct minimum wage. Under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act or FLSA, you must file your lawsuit within two years of your employer's most recent minimum wage violation. If the violation is "willful," that deadline is extended to three years.
File a wage claim with California's Labor Department.
You can also file a wage claim with the California Labor Department. In California, the deadline to file a wage claim is within three years of the most recent violation.
File a wage and hour lawsuit against your employer.
If your employer is paying you under the minimum wage, you can also file a wage and hour lawsuit against your employer. If the amount is under $5,000, you may be able to go to small claims court. If your employer also failed to pay your co-workers the minimum wage, you may have a valuable class action claim, even if the value of your individual claim is not high.
If the value of your individual claim is high, you may choose to file a wage and hour lawsuit against your employer in civil court. If you are successful with your lawsuit, you will be able receive not only back pay, but also other damages and penalties including attorney's fees and court costs.
California law prohibits employers from taking any retaliatory action against their employees for filing a wage claim or a wage lawsuit. Examples of such retaliatory action may range from demotion, being passed up for promotions or even getting laid off or fired. You may have grounds for additional legal action if your employer retaliates against you in this manner.
How an Employment Lawyer Can Help
Shortchanging workers or failing to pay them the wages they earned rightfully, is unethical and illegal. Whether you are an adult or minor or are a U.S. citizen or undocumented, California law protects your right to receive the minimum wage that has been set by the jurisdiction where you are working.
If you believe that your employer is paying you less than the legal minimum wage, it is important that you contact an experienced Los Angeles employment attorney who can guide you through the legal process and help you receive the unpaid wages you are owed in addition to other compensation. If you are owed unpaid wages in California, call Kingsley & Kingsley Lawyers today for a free, comprehensive and confidential consultation.