Many California employers obey the California labor laws. Unfortunately, many don't. This guide lists some of the top ways dishonest employers steal time and money from their workers and what workers can do about it.
Workers have a right to be paid for ALL time worked. Have you noticed that whenever a glitch in the timekeeping system gives workers a little extra money, the company will correct it right away. But when a "glitch" causes workers to lose money it never seems to get fixed. Or have you noticed that you have to do just one or two small things after you clock out like go through a security check or check in equipment. Or before you clock in like log onto a computer or turn off an alarm. If these things are others like them are happening to you, your employer may be stealing pay from you and your co-workers. Employers know that over the course of a year, minutes they don't have to pay their workers add up to substantial savings, especially if the minutes are overtime minutes. A full-time worker who makes $15 an hour and loses just one overtime minute a day, will lose over $100 a year to wage theft. When you fill up your car with gas, you don't get to take "just a little" more because it's "not a big deal." It's the same at work. Employers don't get to steal "just a little" time from workers because it's "not that much." If you are experiencing these kinds of small losses of time at work, you may want to contact an experienced employment attorney to see if your employer is stealing wages.
Some employers steal substantial amounts of time and wages from their employees every pay period. Warning signs of possible wage theft are when an employer makes employees clock in and out with an app or when the foreman or supervisor tracks everyone's time. In these cases, workers never see their timecards and the employer can reduce hours worked without fear of getting caught. Even when employers use timecards, they still reduce hours because they know that most employees won't remember how much time they worked each day.
If you think your employer isn't paying you for all the time that you worked, you can keep track of your hours to check. Just send yourself an email or write down on a piece of paper when you clock in and out each day. If you use a paper timecard, take a picture of it before you turn it in. Make sure the timecard has the date written on it and the picture is clear enough to read the timecard entries and the date. When you get your paycheck, you should also receive a pay stub or one should be available online. By law, the pay stub should have the time period that the pay stub covers and the all the hours that you worked. The number of hours your pay stub says you worked should match your record of how many hours you worked that pay period. If there's a difference, you may want to contact an attorney to see if your employer is stealing from you.
Not Paying Final Wages or Paying Final Wages Late
In California, when a worker is laid off or terminated, the employer must immediately pay the worker all money owed including all accrued, unused vacation hours.* Some employers refuse to pay any wages at termination or they don't pay all wages owed, such as unused vacation hours. Other employers don't want the hassle of cutting an extra check, so they don't pay all wages owed until the next payday. Both practices are illegal. The penalty for late payment of wages is 8 hours of additional pay to the worker for each day final pay is late up to 30 days. A worker making $15 an hour whose final pay is 30 days or more late would be owed the unpaid wages plus $3600 in penalties.
(*There are exceptions to these rules for a small number of employees mainly in the entertainment and fashion industries.)
Stealing Rest Breaks
Many jobs require demanding work at a fast pace or in high heat so every minute of rest time is critical to employees. California employers must provide a ten minute paid rest period for every four hours an employee works. For most workers, that means they should receive two rest breaks per eight hour shift and a third rest break if the shift is longer than ten hours. Not getting a full ten minute rest break is just as illegal as not getting any rest break at all. So if an employee has to spend part of a ten minute break walking to and from the breakroom, the employee is not receiving a legally required rest break. Employees must be relieved of all duty during rest breaks. So if any employee is required to monitor a phone or a radio or be available to answer a customer or co-worker question during a rest break, the employer may also be breaking the law.
Some California employers use computer "analytics" or "big data" to pressure employees to work through rest breaks. Typically, the employer will have a computer model that says an employee should be able to accomplish a certain amount of work in a certain period of time. Employees who don't make the work goals, which are often based on bad data, are penalized. Employees have to work through their rest breaks or to shorten their rest breaks so they won't get in trouble. Pressuring workers to skip or shorten rest breaks is illegal, especially when the pressure is coming from an unrealistic computer model.
If you feel that you are not receiving the correct number of daily rest breaks or full ten minute rest breaks, you should consult an experienced employment attorney to see if your employer is breaking the law. Employers that violate the rest period laws may have to pay substantial penalties to the state and their workers.
Stealing Meal Periods
California employers must provide a 30 minute off-duty meal period for every 5 hours that an employee works. Employees who work more than 10 hours in a day are entitled to a second 30 minute off-duty meal period. Off-duty means workers must be free to leave the workplace and not be under the employer's control for the whole meal period. If an employee has time to eat a quick lunch, but doesn't have time to take a full 30 minute off-duty meal period, the employer is violating the law. If an employer provides exactly 30 minutes for a meal period but requires employees to do some other action such as go through a security check or turn in equipment after clocking out for lunch, the employer may be violating the law. It's also illegal for an employer to pressure employees to skip meal periods or to work during lunch. So if an employer has unrealistic production goals that make it hard for employees to take 30 minute meal periods, the employer is violating the law. Employers that violate the rest period laws may have to pay substantial penalties to the state and their workers.
What You Can Do
If you think your employer is violating these or other laws, you may want to consult an experienced employment attorney. Many attorneys who represent workers offer free consultations and would be glad to discuss these issues with you. If you are not able to find an attorney to represent you or you prefer to handle the situation on your own, you can contact the California Labor Commissioner. You can file a complaint for unpaid wages, missed meal and rest breaks, late final wages, and other Labor Code violations with the Labor Commissioner.
Additional resources provided by the author
The California Labor Commissioner has a website with detailed information on California wage and hour laws. The website also has information on how to file a complaint with the Labor Commissioner. A link to the Labor Commissioner website is below.
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