You are entitled to all of your accrued and unpaid vacation. In addition, the employer is liable for waiting time penalties of up to a thirty days for failing to correctly pay all of your wages, including vacation, within 72 hours.
You now have several options.
You can personally demand the payment of the still due amounts plus penalties, but it is unlikely that will get anything done.
You can hire an attorney to write a demand letter, and perhaps you will get satisfaction.
You can file an administrative complaint with the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement, also known as the Labor Commissioner's Office. It is no charge to you, and the agency will assist you in procuring your money.
You can file a lawsuit. One way is a simple small claims lawsuit if the amount in controversy is low enough. It is a quick and cheap alternative. The other is to file a superior court lawsuit. While you do not have to have an attorney represent you in that venue, it makes a great deal of sense.
There are pros and cons of each approach. You should consult with an experienced employment law attorney who is not overly focused on simply earning fees to explore those options and decide how to proceed.
Good luck to you.
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You are correct that California law requires employers to pay an employee's final wages at the time the employer ends the employment, or within 72 hours if the employee resigns without giving 72 hours notice. "Final wages" consist of regular pay, overtime pay, accrued and unused vacation pay, PTO, commissions that can be calculated, some bonuses and perhaps other components. It does not include unused sick leave.
If the employer does not pay as required, there is a penalty against the employer and in favor of the employee: the employee’s pay continues as if the employee were still working, every day until the employer pays in full, up to a maximum of 30 days. The employee is entitled to interest at 10 per cent per annum on the unpaid amount. Also, if the employee must go to court to get his or her pay, then the employee is awarded reasonable attorney’s fees and costs of suit.
My guess is that your total claim, even with interest and penalties, is less than $10,000. This makes it impractical to file a lawsuit in Superior Court, though it is an option. But even if you are owed somewhat more $10,000, Superior Court is not a good option because it now takes a very long time to get through the process, given the budget shortages in the state. I agree with Mr. Pedersen that Small Claims Court is a better option.
The Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) is a sub-agency within the California Department of Industrial Relations. http://www.dir.ca.gov/dlse/. Some people refer to the DLSE as the Labor Commissioner. The DLSE enforces California's wage and hour laws, including those pertaining to overtime, rest and meal breaks, and more. This would be the most appropriate avenue to pursue your claim, although it is slow. The link for information on filing a wage claim is here: http://www.dir.ca.gov/dlse/howtofilewageclaim.htm.
If you wish to use an attorney, you can find a plaintiffs employment attorney on the web site of the California Employment Lawyers Association (CELA). CELA is the largest and most influential bar association in the state for attorneys who represent working people. The web site is www.cela.org. Click on "Find a CELA Member" and you can search by location and practice area. Many CELA attorneys represent clients throughout the state.
I hope you can resolve your situation and wish you the best.
@MikaSpencer * * * twitter.com/MikaSpencer * * * PLEASE READ: 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.
If your employer willfully withhold your pay and earned and unused vacation time, you are owed all wages including earned and unused vacation PLUS the law states that your employer "shall" pay your attorney. Call an employment law attorney to discuss. Many of us offer a free initial phone consultation and may be willing to write a demand letter to your former employer and get what is owed to you plus their pay.