So you file a wage claim with the Labor Commissioner and you receive a notice of an initial case conference. You show up at the conference with your evidence and hope to show the Deputy Labor Commissioner who is assigned to your case how it is that your employer failed to pay you wages. The Deputy asks you questions about the wage claim, asks the defendant-employer questions, and then, for some reason, decides to dismiss your wage claim. Why does this happen? What can you do about it?
First, here’s some background: A Deputy Labor Commissioner, depending on which DLSE office they work for, can have HUNDREDS of wage claims assigned to them at any one time. I recently talked to a Deputy Labor Commissioner in Los Angeles who told me she had over 500 cases assigned to her. This was about the same for one that I just talked to in Sacramento. By contrast, a Deputy Labor Commissioner in Santa Barbara told me that she had only 200 cases. (This is likely why wage claims filed with the Santa Barbara labor board get set for a conference within weeks of filing, as opposed to months at the other labor board offices in California.)
With so many cases assigned to them, one of the primary jobs given to a Deputy Labor Commissioner is to sift through the wage claims and get rid of as many as possible. This A Deputy Labor Commissioner in Los Angeles recently told me she had over 500 cases assigned to her. is because those cases, if they are not dismissed or do not resolve (by settlement or otherwise), will be set for a hearing. The hearing takes up a lot of resources, because it can take a whole morning or afternoon, sometimes more, so the DLSE likely cannot afford to have every case go to a hearing.
Thus, the Deputies end up dismissing a lot of wage claims, even the good ones. It happens all the time that a good wage claim will be dismissed. This usually happens for a number of reasons.
One reason a Deputy Labor Commissioner may dismiss a case is that they do not think the case has merit. In other words, the Deputy believes that the plaintiff will not win if the case goes to a hearing.
The problem with dismissing a wage claim for this reason is that the Deputy Labor Commissioners do not always understand the nuances of your wage claim (which happens a lot of you do not have a lawyer representing you).
For example, one client filed a claim with the Santa Barbara labor board (without having a lawyer represent him) for unpaid wages on the basis that his employer agreed to pay him $25 per hour, but his paycheck stubs showed he was only getting paid $15 per hour. He wanted the difference between $25 per hour and $15 per hour going back three years. The Deputy Labor Commissioner dismissed his case on the basis that she did not see any violation of California law.
The client then started looking for a lawyer. When I saw his paycheck stubs I saw a blatant violation that the Deputy had missed. It turned out that the employer was not paying overtime properly. The paycheck stubs also did not comply with Labor Code section 226.
The Deputy Labor Commissioner had missed the critical overtime issue. I spoke with her afterward and pointed out the issue, but by then my client had decided to file a civil suit to recover the unpaid overtime … and penalties for defective/misleading paycheck stubs. (Claims for defective paycheck stubs may not be brought in a wage claim before the Labor Commissioner.)
In short, the Deputy Labor Commissioner assigned to your case may not see your claim as clearly as you do. If you do not show him or her exactly how you have been wronged, you cannot expect the Deputy to find out for you. Their massive case loads prohibit them from spending too much time looking for violations in your case.
Some other reasons why the Deputy may dismiss your case include: (1) the case is too complicated (the labor board likes easy cases), (2) the Deputy does not think you are believable, or (3) you really do not have a case.
If the labor board dismisses your case, you will likely have the option of filing a claim in civil court. If this happens to you, you could contact an attorney to represent you. Feel free to contact Strauss & Strauss, APC for an evaluation of your wage claim. We handle wage claims of all sizes throughout California.