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Sad, but true: employer wage theft in California a real problem

An unscrupulous employer in Southern California or elsewhere in the state can engage in wage theft that illegally shorts a worker from pay that he or she has earned through any number of schemes and tactics.

Employers sometimes misclassify workers, for example, with the intent to avoid paying them overtime pay or other work-related benefits they have earned. Workers are sometimes tasked to work "off the clock' by toiling both before and after their stated work hours, or through being deprived of meal/rest breaks. Wage theft is committed through employers' withholding of tips and commissions and by deducting for inappropriate items. The list of bad-faith conduct is long and varied.

As noted in one recent Los Angeles Times article, some workers owed money were disingenuously informed by their employer that their expectations were incorrect and that their labor was actually an unpaid apprenticeship.

Evidence indicates that many California workers are unsuccessful when seeking to pursue claims of unpaid wages against unprincipled employers. Quite often, those employers change names or switch ownership, making it difficult for workers to purposefully follow through on their efforts to recover lost pay.

One shocking statistic from a UCLA-sourced study reveals that only 17 percent of workers who had secured a judgment against a former employer for nonpayment of wages were able to recover any money at all over a several-year period. A state agency report found just about the same result when it looked into the matter.

Ripped-off workers should know the following three things regarding nonpayment of wages they have toiled for and are lawfully owed.

First, there are both federal and state laws that bar illegal employer conduct in wage-related matters. They are detailed and specific, and based on the logical premise that wage withholding can amount to a criminal act.

Second, the penalties against individuals and companies that commit wage theft can be severe.

And, third, a proven California employment law attorney knows the applicable laws intimately, as well as the legal process to invoke to best ensure the protections that an aggrieved worker is entitled to.