Pursuing a Claim for Unpaid Wages Or Overtime – Court or DLSE?
There are two main ways in which an employee can recover unpaid wages (including commissions, unpaid overtime, vacation time, any other wages due, and any waiting time penalties) from his employer in California – (i) through a court lawsuit (like any other civil case) or (ii) through filing a wage claim with a local DLSE branch (Department of Labor Standards Enforcement). Which option is better for you depends on a number of factors specific to your potential claim. An experienced employment attorney should be able to advise you on the best option for your case.
Why File a Wage Claim With DLSE
Generally, if your dispute is over a relatively small amount (under $20,000.00), a DLSE wage claim is a far more efficient route to go. The DLSE Labor Commissioner process is quicker than litigating a case in court, is fairly simple and free, except for any expenses you might incur for legal representation, which you may or may not need. Also, with the DLSE claim you will get to a hearing sooner than if you were to file a lawsuit and had to wait for a court trial.
Why File a Wage Claim In Court
There are three key advantages to filing a wage case in court and skipping the claim process with the Labor Commissioner’s Office:
The first advantage is that filing a case in court may extend your statute of limitations from three years, as allowed by DLSE, to four years, since you can always add the Business and Professions Code 17200 UCL (unfair competition) claim, which applies to pretty much any labor code violation such as unpaid wages and overtime, and which has that four-years statute of limitations. This is very useful for those employees who have not been paid properly for longer than three years, and who can reach one extra year of unpaid wages / overtime with this 17200 claim, when it’s included in the case. The employer might argue that the shorter 3-years limitations period applies to labor code claims in court, even if you include the UCL 17200 claim in your lawsuit, but they would be wrong. The important case to rely on in these types of situations is the California Supreme Court decision in Cortez v Purolator Air Filtration Products, Co. (2000).
The second advantage in filing a wage case in court is that it allows for a full discovery. You will be entitled to get a copy of all your pay records and any other relevant documents that may help you prove your case. You may also be entitled to take depositions of the managers and decisions makes on the employer side. The disadvantage of this is of course the flipside – the employer will also get to take your deposition, which may be more or less stressful for you. This advantage is very important in those cases where the employer denies liability. For instance – where the employer argues that you didn’t work overtime, or you didn’t work as much as you claim you did, or that your duties make you exempt, when in fact they weren’t.
The third advantage is more strategic. It will cost the employer much more to defend a lawsuit than handling a DLSE claim because there is much more work involved in handling a court case than a labor commissioner claim.
Pursuing a Wage Claim in Sacramento DLSE
When you bring a wage claim with the local Sacramento DLSE office locations to recover unpaid wages or unpaid overtime, it’s a good idea to consult with an experienced employment attorney who can file a wage claim on your behalf and guide you through the process, explaining to you what to expect. At that time you may also discuss the strengths and the weaknesses of your claim, which will determine your strategy. Even if you end up representing yourself, a consultation with an attorney can still be very useful to you in educating you about the strengths weaknesses of your claim and allow you to make a more informed decision about how to handle your claim and any settlement negotiations.
Quite a few employers in Sacramento, especially smaller companies, are either not aware of or don’t care to comply with the California wages and overtime laws. They routinely fail to pay overtime and commissions due. When an employee brings a claim for those types of violations, he will not only recover what he legally earned, but that claim will often make the employer and their attorneys review, revise and improve their pay policy, so the end result is a good one for employers as well, even if they will never admit that.
If you are or have been employed in the Sacramento area, and you believe you are being owed unpaid wages or unpaid overtime, feel free to contact us to discuss your legal options. Also, here is an article on the simple way to calculate unpaid overtime that you might be due.