Filing a Wage Theft Claim: Navigating the Legal Process

by | Oct 2, 2023 | General Issues, Retaliation, Wage & Hour

Filing a Wage Theft Claim


Filing a wage theft claim can feel like a daunting task. However, you are not alone. The Economic Policy Institute claimed that employers steal billions from workers’ paychecks every year. After you have received legal counsel from an experienced employment attorney,

Understanding the Wage Theft Claim Process

Employees whose employers have not paid them wages owed may file a complaint with the California DIR’s Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (“DLSE”). The required complaint form is DLSE Form 1, “Initial Report or Claim” and it is available in multiple languages on the DLSE’s webpage with forms. The California DIR provides instructions – including a list of all the paperwork required in addition to filing DLSE Form 1 – for filing a wage theft claim on its website. Information on California’s DIR wage claim office for the Central Valley is here.

Don’t delay because there are important deadlines for filing claims, which are:

  • Within one year for penalties regarding a bounced check or failing to provide access to, or a copy of, payroll or personnel records.
  • Within two years for an oral promise to pay more than minimum wage.
  • Within three years for violations of minimum wageovertime, unpaid rest and meal breaks, sick leaveillegal deductions from pay, or unpaid reimbursements
  • Within four years for a written contract.

Once an aggrieved worker files a claim, the Labor Commissioner’s Office investigates to determine what, if any, wages or benefits are owed. Within 30 days after receiving the claim, the Deputy Labor Commissioner assigned to the case will schedule a settlement conference between the employee and employer to resolve the issues.

If the parties don’t settle the claim, the Labor Commissioner’s Office will schedule it for a hearing during which both parties may bring documents and witnesses to testify. Within fifteen days after the hearing, the Labor Commissioner will issue its ruling, setting forth the decision and the amount awarded, if any, by the hearing officer.

Either party, or both, may appeal that decision within 10 days to the appropriate court. Should an employer fail to pay any wages assessed in the decision, the California DIR can enforce the judgment.

This California DIR webpage has more information about the wage claim process; it also has a brochure explaining the process.

 If your employer appeals, the Superior Court will hear the case without reviewing the decision of the Labor Commissioner. You and your employer will have to present your evidence and testimony again. Low-income workers may use the Commissioner’s “Request for Attorney Representation” and a form called “Claimant’s Financial Status” to request free representation from one of the Labor Commissioner’s attorneys. The DIR will send you these forms. If you appeal the decision, you may represent yourself or hire an attorney.

The federal claim process is similar to California’s, and the USDOL WHD has a webpage explaining that claim process.

Gathering Necessary Evidence

We discussed above the types of documents employees should retain to support their claims. The California DIR has a webpage detailing all the documents (copies only) that an employee is required to submit, if available.

Be sure to get the contact information of any other employees or persons who can corroborate your claims. These witnesses may be asked to testify at a hearing or provide a statement in support of your claim.

    Seeking Legal Representation

    In the event, the Labor Commissioner’s Office doesn’t resolve your claim, or if your claim involves a significant amount of unpaid wages, you may need to file a lawsuit in court. Should you decide to do so, it is advisable to seek assistance from an attorney who knows how to handle wage theft claims. Regardless of whether you file a court action, a lawyer can help you understand your legal rights, available options, and advise you on gathering the necessary documents and witnesses to support your claim. If necessary, the attorney may also represent you in court.

    As mentioned above, your coworkers and other employees may be experiencing the same issue(s). If so, an attorney can help with putting together a class action lawsuit where warranted.

    The experienced wage violation claims lawyers at Rothschild & Alwill, APC can advise you on a potential wage theft claim. Email us or call or office in our Central Valley office in Bakersfield at (661-369-8510) or in Santa Barbara at (805-845-1190) to schedule an initial confidential consultation at no charge. Se habla Español.


    The Aftermath of Filing a Claim

    California law requires that an employer pay restitution to the employee for all the back wages owed, in addition to a civil penalty. Bringing a court action may allow you to seek a larger range of damages. Consult with an experienced wage theft attorney on your options.

    Furthermore, California law prohibits employers from retaliating against workers for filing a wage theft complaint. If your employer retaliates against you – which may include firing, demotion, or other punishments – you can file a complaint for retaliation with the Labor Commissioner’s Retaliation Complaint Unit.


    Wage theft is an ongoing problem. But you don’t have to be subject to it. Stay informed of your rights and contact the experienced employment attorneys at Rothschild & Alwill, APC to ensure you receive the full amount you are owed. To schedule your free, no-obligation initial consultation with an experienced employment law attorney, contact us online or call us in Santa Barbara at 805-845-1190 or Bakersfield at 661-369-8510. There is no reason to suffer in silence. If work isn’t working for you, take the first step and get help today.

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