Wage Theft in California: Is Your Boss Stealing Your Pay?

In the bustling streets of California’s vibrant cities and the serene landscapes of its rural towns, countless individuals diligently contribute their labor to keep the wheels of the economy turning. Yet, behind the glossy facade of the Golden State’s prosperity lies a hidden menace that silently plagues the lives of many workers: wage theft.

From overtime violations to legal minimum wage violations, this insidious practice not only robs employees of their hard-earned wages but also undermines their dignity and livelihoods. In this blog, we delve into the depths of this pervasive issue, shining a light on the shadows where unscrupulous employers lurk. 

Is your boss stealing your pay?

Wage theft occurs when an employer intentionally denies employees the compensation they are owed, encompassing more than just regular wages and salaries. This unjust practice also includes withholding and unauthorized deductions of bonuses, benefits, commissions, and tips that rightfully belong to the workers. From unpaid overtime and unfulfilled bonuses to withheld tips and misclassified employment, these are the most common instances of wage theft:

  • Unpaid Wages: Occurs when employers fail to pay their employees the agreed-upon salaries or hourly wages.
  • Unpaid Overtime: Employers may require employees to work beyond the standard 40-hour workweek without providing appropriate compensation.
  • Minimum Wage Violations: Some employers may fail to pay their workers the legally mandated minimum wage per hour.
  • Off-the-Clock Work: Some workers may be pressured or coerced into performing work-related tasks before or after their designated work hours without compensation.
  • Illegal Deductions: Employers might unlawfully deduct wages for break time, uniforms, or other business expenses, reducing the employee’s overall compensation.
  • Misclassification of Employees: Some employers misclassify employees as independent contractors, depriving them of benefits, overtime pay, and other protections.
wage theft in california

Legal Protections in California

California has robust wage and hour laws in place to safeguard workers from wage theft. These include:

California Labor Code Section 204

This provision mandates that employers pay their workers at least twice a month on regular paydays designated in advance. All wages earned between the 1st and 15th of the month must be paid no later than the 26th day of the same month, while wages earned between the 16th and the last day of the month must be paid no later than the 10th day of the following month. This ensures that employees receive their due earnings promptly.

California Minimum Wage Law

The California Minimum Wage Law dictates the regular rate that employers must pay their employees. This ensures that workers are compensated adequately, affording them the means to meet their basic needs. Employers are obligated to adhere to this wage floor, thereby reducing the instances of wage theft through underpayment.

California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE)

Workers who experienced wage theft can file complaints with the DLSE, which also handles matters related to overtime, working conditions, meal and rest breaks, and employee classification. That way, the DLSE serves as a crucial resource to protect labor rights and recover unpaid wages.

California’s Pay Transparency Act (Senate Bill 1162)

Mandates that businesses with 15 or more employees must include salary range details in all job postings. Workers also have the right to access the pay scale for their current positions, and to promote wage equity, companies with 100 or more employees are required to submit pay data and wage history to the state or face penalties.

Is Wage Theft a Crime in California?

Wage theft is considered a violation of labor laws and employment regulations in the state. However, it is generally classified as a civil offense rather than a criminal offense. However, it’s taken seriously, and employers who engage in wage theft may face civil penalties, fines, and restitution orders to pay back the stolen wages to affected employees. Victims of wage theft should follow these steps in case of a complaint.

Filing a Wage Theft Claim

  • Gather evidence: Collect evidence that supports your claim, such as pay stubs, payroll records, wage statements, personnel records, employment contracts, and any other relevant documentation.
  • Check eligibility: Ensure your claim falls within the statute of limitations, which is generally three years from the date the wages were due.
  • Submit the DLSE Form: Obtain and fill out the DLSE Wage Claim Form (Form 1). This form, available in English, Spanish, Filipino, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, and Punjabi, serves as the initial report or claim for any wage-related concern to be submitted to the Labor Commissioner’s Office.
  • Await response: The DLSE will review your wage complaint and may investigate to assess the validity of your allegations. They will inform you and your employer about the claim’s status and any further actions. You do not need to worry about your marital, financial, or immigration status as the agency will not question you about this information.


Wage theft is a grave injustice that undermines the fundamental principles of fair labor practices and equality. As workers in California, it’s essential to be aware of your rights and protections.

We understand that filing a claim can be complex, and it is essential to seek legal advice from an experienced employment lawyer to ensure your rights are protected and to navigate the process successfully. An attorney can provide guidance, advocate on your behalf, and help you pursue the rightful compensation for any labor violation you may have experienced.


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