Is There a State Penalty for Unpaid Wages in California?

Yes. There are several penalties for unpaid wages in California.

Waiting Time Penalties:

First, an employer who “willfully” fails to pay all wages owed at the end of an employee’s employment will have to pay a maximum of 30 days of wages as a penalty. The thirty days of wages are whatever an employee makes in one day (including an average of overtime hours worked), times the employee’s rate of pay, times 30.

For example, if an employee is not paid overtime (the amount of unpaid overtime does not matter), then she will likely be entitled to waiting-time penalties. If she averaged two overtime hours a day, five days a week, and if she made $20 per hour as her regular rate of pay (making her overtime rate $30/hour), her waiting-time penalties would be $6,600. We calculate her waiting-time penalties as follows:

30 days x (8 hours x $20) + (2 hours x $30) = 30 days x ($160) + ($60) = 30 days x ($220) = $6,600.

In our experience, these waiting-time penalties are commonly awarded against employers who do not pay all wages owed to their employees.  Contact Strauss Law Group.

Liquidated Damages:

If an employer fails to pay an employee at least the minimum wage, then the employee can recover the total in unpaid minimum wages, plus an additional penalty of “liquidated damages” in an amount equal to the minimum wages owed.

For example, if an employee is owed $10,000 in unpaid minimum wages going back the last four years, then he may recover an additional $10,000 in liquidated damages for these same minimum wage violations.

In effect, the liquidated damages provision can double an employee’s claim for unpaid minimum wages.

Attorney Fees and Costs:

An employee who successfully brings a claim for unpaid wages is entitled by law to her attorney fees and costs. This provides a strong incentive for employers to not fight these cases. Attorney fees and costs are not awardable if you bring your case before the California Labor Commissioner.

Private Attorney General Penalties:

In some unpaid wages cases, an employee may recover “civil” penalties against his employer, so long as he follows the procedures set forth in the Private Attorney General Act (PAGA). PAGA cases are rare because the employee has to give 75% of the penalties he recovers to the state.

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