Does this sound familiar? During your employment, your employer failed to pay you wages that were owed. At first, you tried to work with your employer to see if you could get paid what you were owed. Your employer refused. Eventually, you filed a claim with the California Labor Commissioner, or what is known as the Department of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE). First, you had a settlement conference. Maybe your employer showed up, maybe they didn't. Either way, the case did not settle. Months later, you presented your case to a hearing officer. Again, maybe your employer showed up or maybe not. Sometime later, the hearing officer rendered a decision, or what is known as an Order, Decision, or Award of the Labor Commissioner (ODA). According to the ODA, the Labor Commissioner found that your employer indeed owed you wages and maybe even penalties. In the notice that accompanied the ODA, there was a command that your employer had to either appeal the decision or pay the award within 10 days. Those 10 days came and went, and your employer did not file an appeal. Months or maybe even years have now gone by, and yet your employer still has not paid the award, but the business is still in operation. The Labor Commissioner has been of little help. You are now wondering whether you will ever get paid.
You are not alone. According to a study performed by UCLA, “[O]nly 17 percent of California workers who prevailed in their wage claims before the DLSE and received a judgment were able to recover any payment at all between 2008 and 2011.” This number is shocking. However, the California Legislature has been trying for years to make it easier for someone like you to collect their judgment for unpaid wages. As a result, an employee who has not been paid a judgment for unpaid wages now has some significant remedies at his or her disposal.
For example, if an employer has the ability to pay a Labor Commissioner award and intentionally does not do so within 10 days, the employee can now recover a penalty equal to three times the amount of the unpaid award. (Lab. Code, § 206, subd. (b).) In other words, let's say your employer failed to pay you $50,000 within 10 days of a Labor Commissioner award. (Actually, the 10-day period is extended by five days to account for mailing, so in reality the deadline is 15 days.) Assuming that the employer had the ability to pay a $50,000 award during that time period, and that the employer knew of its obligation to pay and still did not do so, the employee can recover a penalty of $150,000. So, in total, the employer would be liable to the employee for the original $50,000 award, plus the penalty of $150,000, for a total of $200,000.
Another new law provides that, if an employer fails to pay two employees, one after the other, then the second employee can bring and action to cause the employer to cease doing business in California unless the employer posts a sizable bond with the Labor Commissioner. (Lab. Code, § 240, subd. (a).)
Additionally, an employee who seeks to enforce a judgment for unpaid wages is entitled to his or her costs and attorney’s fees. (Lab. Code, § 98.2, subd. (k).) Interest is also accruing at the rate of 10% on all unpaid judgments for wages.
These remedies now make it much easier for an employer to collect a judgment for unpaid wages. We know this because we routinely represent employees in actions to recover judgments for unpaid wages in California. If you are in this situation, regardless of how much you are owed, please contact us. We will evaluate your case and see if we can help you. Hopefully, though you have been waiting for months to recover the wages owed to you, hopefully your waiting will come to an end fairly quickly. Call us now.