I am stunned by the number of discrepancies in the legal process to recover unpaid wages, if an employee is no longer employed by the employer, is he or she entitled to recover wages through UCL 17200? I thought so, but I received a legal advice saying than only current employees can file a claim for unpaid wages. I read a case where a former employee, was successful in recovering unpaid wages, as well as attorney's fees. The case is CORTEZ v. PUROLATOR AIR FILTRATION PRODUCTS COMPANY, and it appears to be a case where she is a former employee no longer working for the employer. Can someone clarify this? It is my understanding that CA legislature is doing its best to address the inconsistency on how the law is interpreted and applied, meanwhile who has to pay the price for the outcome?
Mr. Chen's answer is correct but perhaps confusing to someone who doesn't deal with the law on a daily basis. An employee who is owed wages can obtain relief through the wage and hour statutes and also through Business and Professions Code section 17200 et seq.
Whoever told you that only current employees can file a claim for unpaid wages is absolutely incorrect. I hope it wasn't an attorney who said this; if so, it's inexcusable.
Either a current employee or a former employee can sue under the wage and hour statues for unpaid wages. Unpaid wages is a form of damages.
Either a current employee or a former employee can sue under section 17200 is for restitution, or the disgorgement (return) of unjust enrichment. Restitution is not damages, but an equitable remedy. What this means is that the employer shouldn't be entitled to keep the benefits derived from its violation of the law, in this case, its violation of the wage and hour laws. The employer must pay out (disgorge) the same amount by which it was unjustly enriched by breaking the law.
If the employer owes a current or former employee $1,000 in unpaid wages, the employee can sue for unpaid wages and/or for restitution. The amount sued for in wages is $1,000. The amount sued for in restitution is $1,000. The employee cannot recover both; he or she cannot recover twice for the same harm.
While the dollar amount either by a suit for damages or a suit for restitution is often the same, there are differences in other aspects of the recovery. Depending on the type of wages owed, a plaintiff may recover wages as far back as one year, two years or three years. For a section 17200 suit, the plaintiff may obtain restitution as far back as four years. Many attorneys sue under wage and hour statutes and section 17200 in the same lawsuit, primarily to be able to recover for the fourth year. There are other differences between the two types of laws, too, but they are many and not really at issue in your question.
*** All legal actions have time limits, called statutes of limitation. If you miss the deadline for filing your claim, you will lose the opportunity to pursue your case. Please consult with an experienced employment attorney as soon as possible to better preserve your rights. *** Marilynn Mika Spencer provides information on Avvo as a service to the public, primarily when general information may be of assistance. Avvo is not an appropriate forum for an in-depth response or a detailed analysis. These comments are for information only and should not be considered legal advice. Legal advice must pertain to specific, detailed facts. No attorney-client relationship is created based on this information exchange. *** Marilynn Mika Spencer is licensed to practice law before all state and federal courts in California, and can appear before administrative agencies throughout the country. She is eligible to represent clients in other states on a pro hac vice basis. ***
The plaintiffs in Cortez had a vested interest in their earned but unpaid wages. An order that earned wages be paid is therefore a restitutionary remedy authorized by the UCL. A defendant employer can be properly compelled to restore unpaid wages to its employees and former employees. The order in Cortez was not one for payment of damages, which are not available under Bus. & Prof. Code, § 17203.
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. This posting does not create any attorney-client relationship with the author. For specific advice about your particular situation, consult your own attorney.
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