Yes, you might. However, it appears you have a statute of limitations bar as to most of your claim for unpaid wages, especially if you do not have a written employment contract. Moreover, an employment attorney will need a bit more information from you in order to determine your rights and strategy.
Frank W. Chen has been licensed to practice law in California since 1988. The information presented here is general in nature and is not intended, nor should be construed, as legal advice for a particular case. This Avvo.com posting does not create any attorney-client relationship with the author. For specific advice about your particular situation, please consult with your own attorney.
More info is needed. Why would you work for 18 years without pay? Was it because you received a reduction in rent to compensate for your work? CA law requires that employees be paid at least minimum wage - $8.00 per hour. If you calculate your hours worked x $8.00 per hour and then figure out the amount they reduced from your rent, if they did, you can determine if you received the equivalent of minimum wage. Nonetheless, the statute of limitations is only 1 year for a wage claim, unless you can claim breach of oral contract (2 years) or breach of written contract (4 years.) If your lease addresses this issue and it was breached, you may go back 4 years. I suggest that you add to your question to give more facts or contact an employment law attorney.
While an apartment owner can pay its employee with the right to live in the premises, the Wage Order covering that industry limits how much of the earnings can be designated for that. Beyond the value assigned in the Wage Order, all other income must be paid in money. To determine what income would be due to you, you multiply the number of hours you worked a week times the minimum wage, which is $8 an hour at this time. If you worked more than 8 hours in a day, or more than 40 hours in a week, then you get overtime for that time at the rate of $12 per hour. You then subtract the value of the rent set forth in the Wage Order, and that is the amount you are owed for wages.
The statute of limitations on unpaid wages is 3 years from the failure to pay. There is an alternative theory that allows you to reach back 4 years. However, every day that passes means some pay that was owed moves beyond the statute of limitations and cannot be sought.
You need to locate and retain a good employment lawyer immediately and get an action filed. If you proceed with the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement, you will be limited to the three year period discussed above. Better to hire an attorney and sue where you can reach back 4 years. You will also be entitled to interest, penalties and attorney fees if successful.
Most attorneys in this area work on a contingency fee basis, meaning you can hire a very qualified attorney and not pay a penny unless and until there is a recovery.
Good luck to you.
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I see in your comments that you had a written employment agreement. If you have an enforceable employment agreement, performed your services, and were not provided what was promised to you, then yes, you can get back wages. However, because you have waited so long, you will likely not be able to get compensated for all 18 years. To determine how far back your claim may go, more information, such as whether your employer made additional promises to pay, would be needed. It looks like you are close to my firm. Feel free to contact us to discuss your claims further.
The above answer is not "legal advice" as specified under any pertinent rules governing the Professional Responsibilities of Lawyers and should not be relied upon. An attorney-client relationship has not been established by virtue of this correspondence. Legal issues are often complex and involve local laws and facts which may not be effectively communicated without a complete consultation.