Get Unpaid Wages and Assistance to Fight Wage Theft from the Ruggles Law Firm
Wage theft is an serious violation of workers’ rights, perpetuating an unjust system that harms the very individuals whose labor sustains businesses and industries. This reprehensible practice, which robs employees of their hard-earned wages, undermines the fundamental principles of fairness, dignity, and respect in the workplace.
Matt Ruggles has litigated scores of wage theft lawsuits from both sides – for decades as a defense attorney at one of the largest law firms on Earth; and since 2016 representing employees who have been wronged by their corporate employers.
The Ruggles Law Firm has recovered millions of dollars from large and small corporations, partnerships, and limited liability companies and individuals that broke California law by failing to properly pay wages to their employees. Matt believes that informed individuals can confidently take the necessary steps to reclaim their hard-earned wages and protect their rights in the workplace.
If you have been a victim of wage theft, the Ruggles Law Firm can help you win your case.
When Do Wage Laws NOT Apply?
While most employees are covered by California’s wage laws, there are certain exemptions based on employee classification. Two primary categories of workers that are not protected by California wage laws are:
- Exempt Employees: Exempt employees are NOT entitled to receive overtime pay, regardless of the number of hours worked beyond the regular work schedule. These employees are typically in executive, administrative, professional, or outside sales positions and must meet specific salary and job duty requirements to qualify for exemption.
- Independent Contractors: Independent contractors are not considered employees and, as such, are not covered by traditional wage laws. However, it’s essential to note that misclassifying employees as independent contractors to avoid wage obligations is unlawful and subject to penalties.
Understanding the intricacies of employee classification and industry-specific exemptions is crucial for both employers and employees to ensure compliance with California’s wage laws.
Understanding the Distinction Between a California Employee and an Independent Contractor
An “employee” is generally defined as an individual who provides services to an employer in exchange for compensation and is subject to the employer’s control and direction regarding the manner and means in which the work is performed. The core characteristics of a California employee include:
Control and Supervision: Employers have significant control over the work of employees. They can dictate the manner, methods, and details of how the work is performed.
Work Schedule: Employees typically work set hours determined by the employer, and the employer has the authority to adjust the work schedule as needed.
Training and Tools: Employers often provide training, tools, and equipment necessary to perform the job.
Compensation and Benefits: Employees receive regular paychecks and may be eligible for benefits such as health insurance, vacation pay, and retirement plans.
Tax Withholding: Employers withhold income taxes, Social Security, and Medicare taxes from employees’ wages.
In California, the determination of whether someone qualifies as an independent contractor is based on a set of rules and factors. The primary guidelines were outlined by the California Supreme Court in the Dynamex Operations West, Inc. v. Superior Court decision and further clarified by California Assembly Bill 5 (AB 5), which took effect on January 1, 2020. These rules, known as the “ABC test,” must be applied to assess a worker’s classification properly. To qualify as an independent contractor in California, the worker must meet all three of the following criteria:
1. A: The Worker is Free from the Control and Direction of the Hiring Entity in Performing the Work:
The hiring entity must not exercise substantial control over how the worker performs their tasks. The worker should have the freedom to decide when, where, and how the work is done without the employer’s micromanagement.
2. B: The Worker Performs Work Outside the Usual Course of the Hiring Entity’s Business:
The services provided by the worker must be different from the usual type of work performed by the hiring entity. In other words, the worker’s services should not be a core part of the hiring entity’s regular business activities.
3. C: The Worker is Customarily Engaged in an Independently Established Trade, Occupation, or Business:
The worker must operate an independently established business or occupation, meaning they have their own business license, business location, and advertise their services to the public or other potential clients. Additionally, the worker’s business must be engaged in providing services to multiple clients, not solely to the hiring entity.
It’s crucial to understand that failing to meet any of the three criteria would mean that the worker should be classified as an employee rather than an independent contractor under California law.
The ABC test presumption may be rebutted in certain limited circumstances for specific professions or occupations through industry-specific exemptions provided by AB 5.
Moreover, certain professions, such as licensed insurance agents, physicians, lawyers, and some others, may be subject to a different test known as the “Borello test,” which was established in S.G. Borello & Sons, Inc. v. Department of Industrial Relations.
Due to the complexity of worker classification, seeking guidance from an experienced California employment lawyer can be crucial for both employers and workers to ensure compliance with the law and protect their rights.
Understanding the Distinction Between an Exempt Employee and a Non-Exempt Employee
A California exempt employee is one who is exempt from certain wage and hour laws, such as overtime pay, meal and rest breaks, and minimum wage requirements. Only employees that meet specific criteria are eligible to be “exempt” from overtime and other wage laws.
On the other hand, a California non-exempt employee is entitled to the full range of labor protections afforded by state law. In California, an employee is presumed to be “non-exempt” and entitled to overtime and other legal protections, meaning that unless the Employer can demonstrate proper application of the specific exemptions, the employee is non-exempt. Most hourly wage employees are non-exempt in California.
Exempt employees are typically excluded from certain wage and hour regulations, such as overtime pay, meal and rest break requirements, and minimum wage provisions. It’s important to note that California has stringent regulations regarding exempt classifications, and misclassification can lead to legal consequences for employers. For the most accurate and up-to-date information, it’s recommended to consult an attorney or refer to the relevant legal sources.
In California, there are primarily three categories of exempt employees: executive employees, administrative employees, and professionals. Here are the general criteria and factors that are considered when determining whether an employee can be classified as exempt within these categories:
To qualify for the executive exemption, an employee must generally meet the following criteria:
The employee’s primary duty is managing an enterprise or a recognized department/subdivision of an enterprise. The executive exemption does not require the employee to be a “C-suite” officer so long as the employee is the top manager for a particular subdivision or separate office/location for the business. For instance, a Store Manager of a chain retail store or restaurant would likely qualify as exempt if the Store Manager has general oversight and responsibility for the retail location/restaurant.
Another factor for executive exemption is the employee regularly directs the work of two or more full-time employees or equivalent (including hiring, firing, and performance evaluations). In addition, the employee has the authority to make significant decisions that affect the business. Generally, this means that the “executive” employee has the authority to directly (or indirectly) commit assets and resources of the company.
Lastly, the employee customarily and regularly exercises discretion and independent judgment. This means that the executive employee has sufficient authority and discretion to operate the business on a day-to- day basis doing primarily management-related activities rather than working the line along with other subordinate workers.
To qualify for the administrative exemption, an employee must generally meet the following criteria:
The employee’s primary duty involves performing office or non-manual work that is directly related to the management or general business operations of the employer or its customers. Additionally, the employee’s primary duty includes exercising discretion and independent judgment with respect to matters of significance. Lastly, the employee’s work involves matters that are not routine or clerical in nature.
To qualify for the professional exemption, an employee must generally meet the following criteria:
The employee’s primary duty involves performing work requiring advanced knowledge in a field of science or learning, customarily acquired through a prolonged course of specialized intellectual instruction. Because the Professional Exemption requires “advanced knowledge,” to qualify as a “Professional” the employee must have an advanced degree or a professional license. The most common examples are doctors, lawyers, accountants, architects, etc. Another condition of professional exemption is if the employee’s work is predominantly intellectual and varied and cannot be standardized. Additionally, further criteria is if the employee’s work requires consistent exercise of discretion and judgment.
Hourly Pay: California non-exempt employees are generally paid on an hourly basis. They are entitled to receive at least the state’s minimum wage for all hours worked and overtime pay at a rate of one and a half times their regular rate for hours worked beyond 8 hours in a workday or 40 hours in a workweek.
Meal and Rest Breaks: Non-exempt employees are entitled to meal breaks of at least 30 minutes for every 5 hours worked and rest breaks of at least 10 minutes for every 4 hours worked.
Overtime: Non-exempt employees must be compensated for any overtime work, and employers must maintain accurate and contemporaneous records of their hours worked.
Labor Law Protections: Non-exempt employees are covered by various labor laws, including those related to working hours, meal and rest breaks, and other wage and hour regulations.
Do you feel like you have been a victim of wage theft? Contact the Ruggles Law Firm for Assistance
What Laws Protect Employees in California from Employer Wage Theft?
Here is a Comprehensive List of California Laws That Protect You:
Minimum Wage Law:
California’s minimum wage law sets the minimum hourly rate that employers must pay their employees. The law ensures that employees receive at least the mandated minimum wage, safeguarding them from being paid less than the legally required amount.
Overtime Pay Law:
California requires employers to pay overtime to eligible employees who work more than eight hours in a day or 40 hours in a week. Additionally, employees who work more than 12 hours in a day or over eight hours on the seventh consecutive day of work are entitled to double-time pay. This law protects workers from being denied fair compensation for the extra hours they put in.
Meal and Rest Breaks Law:
The state’s labor laws mandate that employees are entitled to certain rest and meal breaks depending on their total work hours per day. For example, employees who work more than five hours in a day must receive a 30-minute meal break, and those who work more than 10 hours should have a second 30-minute meal break. This law protects workers from being forced to work through their breaks or being denied the appropriate compensation for missed breaks.
California’s wage statement law requires employers to provide detailed wage statements to employees at the time of payment. These statements must include the total hours worked, the applicable rates of pay, any deductions made, and other relevant information. This ensures transparency and helps prevent employers from inaccurately reporting work hours or underpaying employees.
Wage Theft Prevention Act (WTPA):
The WTPA, enacted in 2012, aims to prevent wage theft by requiring employers to provide written notice to employees about their wage rates, regular payday, and other employment-related terms. The law also increases penalties for wage theft violations, making it more costly for employers to engage in such practices.
California labor laws protect employees from retaliation for asserting their rights to fair wages or reporting wage theft violations. Employers are prohibited from taking adverse actions against employees who exercise their rights under wage and hour laws.
Here is a List of California Agencies that Protect Workers from Wage Theft:
Labor Commissioner’s Office:
The California Labor Commissioner’s Office is responsible for enforcing labor laws, including those related to wage theft. Employees can file complaints with this office if they suspect wage theft, and the office will investigate and take appropriate action against employers found in violation of the law.
Department of Industrial Relations:
The California Department of Industrial Relations (DIR) is a governmental agency responsible for overseeing various aspects of labor and employment. The DIR’s primary objective is to create and enforce fair working conditions, promote workplace safety, protect employee rights, and ensure compliance with state labor laws and regulations.
The DIR administers and enforces a wide array of labor laws, including those related to minimum wage, overtime pay, rest and meal breaks, workers’ compensation, and workplace safety standards. In addition to enforcement, the California Department of Industrial Relations provides educational resources and outreach programs to inform both employers and employees about their rights and responsibilities under state labor laws. The department also offers mechanisms for reporting labor law violations, mediating disputes, and resolving conflicts between employers and employees.
While the DIR serves as a valuable resource for employees, navigating the complexities of labor laws and dealing with potential violations can be challenging. Consulting with a skilled California employment lawyer adds an extra layer of protection and guidance. The Ruggles Law Firm specializes in interpreting labor laws, advocating for employee rights, and taking legal action when necessary.
Wage Theft and Unpaid Wages Help Articles & Guides
Matt Ruggles believes that informed individuals can confidently take the necessary steps to reclaim their hard-earned wages and protect their rights in the workplace.
By becoming familiar with the red flags and common tactics employed by unscrupulous employers, you can take proactive steps to protect your hard-earned income and seek the justice you deserve.
Have you been the victim of wage theft because your employer failed to properly compensate you for your hours worked, denied you overtime pay, or violated minimum wage laws? Learn about your resources and how the Ruggles Law Firm can assist. This guide aims to...
Recovering Unpaid Wages in California
The Ruggles Law Firm Can Help you Recover Unpaid Wages. Here are Some of the Key Approaches:
Wage Claim before the California Labor Commissioner
The California Labor Commissioner, which is part of the California Department of Industrial Relations, has a administrative framework that allows individual plaintiffs with or without an attorney to file a claim with the California Labor Commissioner that is determined before a hearing officer of the California Labor Commissioner’s office. While filing a claim with the California Labor Commissioner is straightforward and free, unless you are represented by an attorney, individual employees must navigate the process themselves. Filing a successful claim before the Labor Commissioner ordinarily takes between 12 and 36 months. The Ruggles Law Firm has litigated more than 100 claims before the California Labor Commissioner.
A private lawsuit is an alternative to filing a claim before the California Labor Commissioner. If your claim for wages and related penalties is worth over $25,000, you have the option of filing a civil lawsuit in the Superior Court. Filing a lawsuit in the California Superior Court requires a private attorney, but can result in an award of damages that includes lost wages, statutory penalties, and attorney’s fees.
Class Action Lawsuit:
If multiple employees from the same employer have unpaid wage claims, you can consider filing a class action lawsuit. This allows you to represent a group of employees collectively and seek justice for all affected parties.
Under the Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA), an employee can bring a claim on behalf of the state to recover civil penalties for labor code violations. This can be an effective way to address wage and hour violations that impact multiple employees.
Negotiation and Settlement:
In some cases, it may be possible to negotiate a settlement with the employer outside of court. A well-prepared case and a strong negotiation strategy can lead to a resolution that compensates the employee for their unpaid wages.
Garnishment and Liens:
If your client obtains a favorable judgment or award, you can pursue wage garnishment or place liens on the employer’s assets to enforce the payment of the owed wages.
Collaboration with Government Agencies:
The California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) allows employees to file a wage claim directly with the Labor Commissioner’s Office. This process is generally quicker and less formal than a lawsuit and can result in the recovery of unpaid wages, overtime, and other owed compensation.
How long Do I Have to File a Lawsuit for California Unpaid Wages?
If you believe that your employment rights have been violated, it’s important not to wait to file a lawsuit. There are several reasons for this.
First, there are deadlines, known as statutes of limitations, that limit the amount of time you have to file a claim after the date you were terminated. If you wait too long, you may lose the ability to pursue legal action altogether.
The statute of limitations for a claim for Wrongful Termination in Violation of Public Policy, as discussed above, is two (2) years in California. See California Code of Civil Procedure section 335.1.
A claim for breach of contract has a two (2) year limitation period if the contract is oral; a claim for breach of contract based upon a written contract has a four (4) year statute of limitations.
A claim for discrimination, harassment or retaliation under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act has a two-part statute of limitations: a terminated employee must first obtain a “Right to Sue” letter from the California Civil Rights Department (formerly the DFEH) within three (3) years of the adverse employment action (i.e. termination, demotion, harassing conduct, etc.); the employee has one (1) year to file a civil lawsuit in court from the date of the Right to Sue letter.
Second, waiting can give the employer time to destroy, discard or delete important evidence such as emails, text messages and other written or electronic documents, making it more difficult to prove your case.
Third, the longer you wait, the harder it may be to remember important details and find witnesses who can support your claim.
Finally, the emotional toll of workplace discrimination or harassment can take a significant toll on your well-being, and taking action sooner rather than later can help you start to move on and regain control of your life.
In short, if you believe your employment rights have been violated, it’s important to consult with an experienced employment attorney as soon as possible to discuss your options and protect your rights.