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What's the time limit for an "independent contractor" to recover unpaid wages in small claims court?

Santa Ana, CA |

I wasn't really an independent contractor since I had an office there and was vital to the core business - the only programmer at an internet company. Although I believe I could be classified an employee to file a wage claim, I'm considering the small claims route. The amount still owed exceeds the limit, but I'd be willing to settle for that amount. The unpaid invoices are now arriving at the two-year-old mark. I don't have a written copy of my contract, so I'm worried that I may be reaching a time limit. However, the last payment received was six months ago, and I have an email from four months ago promising payment when they have funds, which they now do. Do I need to file now, or can it wait?

Attorney Answers 4


You might also consider filing a claim with the Labor Commissioner in your county if you are seeking to be classified as an unpaid employee for wages. You should consult with an employment law attorney. I will add that category to your question. Good luck.

I am licensed in California only and my answers on Avvo assume California law. The above answer is for general information only and is based on the information you posted. Every case is fact dependent, so to get a thorough analysis of your situation, you will need to consult face to face with an attorney licensed to practice in the jurisdiction where the incident took place. Do not conclusively rely on any information posted online when deciding what to do about your case. No attorney-client relationship shall be created through the use reading of this response on Avvo. You should never delay seeking legal advice, disregard legal advice, or commence or discontinue any legal action because of information in this response.

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The general statute of limitations on any kind of oral contract as an independent contractor is two years. However, you may be able to make a claim as an "open book account," where the statute of limitations is four years. If you want to try this as a wage claim, your statute of limitations is three years from the time the wages were due.

A review of your facts would be necessary to provide a precise date as to when your statute of limitations period began to run.

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The statute of limitations is generally 4 years on a written contact and 2 years on an oral contract. Although you don't have a copy, your employer may still have one.

You may wish to pursue this as a wage claim because there may be significant penalties such as waiting time and overtime penalties if you really weren't an independent contractor. The statute of limitations on a wage claim is generally 3 years but could be up to 4 years under unfair competition laws.

Given the time that has passed, you should consult with an employment attorney immediately for a free consultation. Good luck.

Law Offices of Linh T. Nguyen 916.509.7200 Disclaimer: This reply is not intended to be and does not constitute legal advice or the establishment of an attorney-client relationship. I always recommend consulting with an attorney, especially since many attorneys offer free, no-obligation consultations.

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Why wait if they have the money now? The statute of limitations on a written contract is 4 years. Contact an employment law attorney to discuss. An attorney may be able to convince the company to pay you all that is owed plus their fees and possibly waiting time penalties if you were actually an employee and not an independent contractor. 949-481-6909.

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