When to File a Claim with the Labor Commissioner

Individual employees – – current or prior employees – – can pursue wage claims against their employer without having to file a lawsuit in Court.  The California Labor Commissioner (formally the CA Division of Labor Standards and Enforcement (DLSE) under the CA Department of Industrial Relations (DIR)) accepts claims by employees for wages, overtime pay, unpaid vacation, and other wage-related matters, which are then moved through an administrative process leading to settlement with the employer or to a formal administrative hearing.  Employees cannot file wage claims with the Labor Commissioner and file a lawsuit in Court against the same employer for the same wage issues; one of the two possible methods of pursuing wage-related damages must be chosen.

In addition to traditional wage claims, the Labor Commissioner now accepts wage-related retaliation claims; meaning, if an employee raises a wage-related issue with their employer, and is then treated adversely by that employer, the Labor Commissioner will hear such retaliation claims.  The burden is on the employee to show that the adverse treatment by the employer is in response to the employee engaging in ‘protected activity’, such as threatening to file, or filing a wage claim with the Labor Commissioner.

While wage claims can be filed and processed without the employee or the employer being represented by a lawyer, having a lawyer is also not prohibited in the Labor Commissioner process.  Representation by a lawyer may, however, be a deciding factor in either the recovery of damages or in the successful defense against wage claims, since some of the common issues may require detailed knowledge of applicable case law. For example, ‘waiting time penalties’ are usually sought by prior employees because these penalties are triggered when an employer fails to provide all wages (including base pay, overtime pay, accrued vacation or sick time, etc.) to an employee at the time such employee ceases working for the employer. These penalties apply, however, only when the withholding of any pay at the conclusion of employment is intentional by the employer.  In turn, what constitutes ‘intentional’ has been decided different ways by various Courts in California.  Being represented by a lawyer provides what may be a critical advantage in Labor Commissioner wage claims.

If you are an employee who may want to file a wage claim with the CA Labor Commissioner (OR an employer facing such claim) with specific questions regarding California Labor Commissioner claims, CONTACT Sacramento Wage and Hour Lawyers at Goyette & Associates.