Your employer is required by law to compensate you for overtime as an employee when you work for over eight hours a day, forty hours a week, or six consecutive days in a week. While some employees are not eligible for the pay (exempt), several others are non-exempt, qualifying them for overtime pay. Sadly, despite the law making it mandatory for employers to pay additional wages for extra hours worked, many opt not to compensate for extra hours or misclassify workers as exempt to avoid paying the extra money.

Many non-exempt workers don’t understand their rights to recover unpaid overtime pay. This blog highlights the steps you need to take when your employer owes you money for extra work hours if you are entitled to overtime pay by filing a wage and hour suit under the California wage and hour statute.

Understanding California Overtime Rules

A simple understanding of overtime rules is essential in claiming your owed wages. California labor statutes prohibit employers from denying non-exempt workers additional pay for working overtime. If you are new to the California wage and hour law, you might not understand the meaning of non-exempt workers. The law classifies workers as exempt and non-exempt. Non-exempt refers to workers 18 or older paid a time, commission, or hourly basis to perform professional, clerical, technical, or mechanical work. Even individuals aged 16 or 17 years fall under this classification of employees when lawfully permitted to work instead of school.

On the other hand, an exempt worker holds a white-collar job with a fixed wage instead of hourly or piece rates. These employees are not subject to overtime laws; overtime and lunch breaks are included. They include white-collar workers, independent contractors, and employees paid commissions.

If you fall under the non-exempt employee category, your employer should pay you for the extra hours worked. Unfortunately, very few employers are willing to spend these amounts of money to compensate workers for overtime. And because exempt workers are not eligible for overtime wages, many employers misclassify their workers as exempt from denying them this payment, making it necessary to understand the individuals that qualify as exempt workers. For example, you are an exempt worker if:

  • Over half of your hours at work involve performing executive, intellectual or administrative duties

  • You routinely or regularly exercise independent judgment in performing the roles mentioned above

  • You obtain a fixed salary of at least double California’s minimum wage for a full-time job instead of hourly rates

When you are an exempt worker who earns on an hourly basis, you may be eligible for additional wages for the extra hours. Still, the overtime rates won’t be more than your usual hourly rates unless your employment contract states so. If you don’t meet any of the above criteria, it means you are non-exempt, and therefore your employer should pay you overtime wages, failure to which you can sue them to recover the wages owed. However, to go after your employer for your OT wages, you must know the amount you are demanding, hence understanding how to estimate the OT pay you are owed.

Learn How the Application of Overtime Rules

As a non-exempt worker, you are eligible for mandatory OT wages when you work for over eight hours in a workday. Then again, you qualify for OT wages when you work for more than ten hours in a workday on an alternative workweek schedule. For example, a workday starts at 12:01 A.M. until midnight. However, this doesn’t mean that you are eligible for OT wages if you work for over eight hours a workday and the work hours are spread over two distinct workdays.

The advantage of overtime rules is that the start and end of a workday are the same for all employers unless there is a genuine business reason to adjust the beginning or end of a workday. It is worth noting that even if you work over eight hours and the other days you work for an average of eight or fewer hours, you will still be entitled to additional earnings for the extra hours of work. However, if you usually work for less than eight hours, you won’t receive any overtime payment for working the entire eight hours because it is within the regular wage hours.

Similarly, you are eligible for OT wages if you work over forty hours in a workweek. However, this rule will not apply if the forty hours are spread to two different workweeks. Note that working for over eight hours in a workday won’t count towards your weekly overtime hours. It means you must work for over 40 hours at the standard hourly rates to obtain compensation for overtime hours in a workweek, even when receiving wages for working overtime on a workday.

Lastly, you should receive OT wages if you work for seven consecutive days in a workweek. This is because your employer usually determines the start of the workweek. However, this doesn’t give your employer the right to change the workweek to avoid paying for the extra hours.

Estimating Your Overtime Wages

Any time you work above the maximum hours you are supposed to work and are an exempt employee, the law requires you to obtain additional work hours. Your pay for these extra hours should be one and half times the regular hourly rates. It means that you receive a time and half of your regular hourly rates.

Even if your employer doesn’t require you to work extra hours, you can still claim unpaid overtime wages if they permit you to continue working past the usual hours. Therefore, you must claim overtime pay whenever your employer allows you to clock out while still performing your work obligations. For example, pre-shift obligations, post-shift duties, duties performed during meal or rest breaks, administrative roles, and taking lunch while at the front desk are off-clock duties you can pursue payment. However, the compensation is equal to the regular hourly wages.

It is worth noting that you have a right to claim owed overtime even if the employer didn’t authorize it. Unauthorized OT means the extra hours you work even without the employer expressly requiring you to work overtime. All you are required to prove is that your employer was aware or ought to have known you were working overtime.

Sadly, even though the law allows you as a non-exempt employee to work overtime without express permission from the employer, you could face disciplinary action for deliberately keeping your boss in the dark by working above the standard hours.

Also, the employer can force you to work overtime and take disciplinary action like firing you if you don’t comply with the mandatory or forced overtime rules. For example, the law allows your boss to force you to work over eight hours a day or forty hours a week, but they can’t force you to work on the seventh day of your workweek.

Keep in mind that these laws are in place to force employers to hire more people to avoid parting with more money when paying overtime wages. So, the more workers your boss hires, the less the need for you and other employees to work overtime and the more they save money because they won’t be required to pay time and a half or double the standard hourly wages for the extra hours.

Suing Your Employer for Unpaid Overtime Wages

Once your employment attorney provides you with an estimate of the owed OT wages, the next step is to sue. You should start by filing a complaint with the labor board or a lawsuit to recover the amount they owe. You can take legal action if the employer does the following:

  • Fails to pay additional wages for working more than eight hours a day, forty hours, or six consecutive days in a workweek.

  • Requires you to work off the clock

  • Requires you to perform your duties during a lunch break

  • Misclassifies you as an exempt worker

  • Misclassifies you as an independent contractor

If your employer engages in any of the above illegalities, you can file a lawsuit even if you seek only hundreds of dollars. The law requires the employer to compensate you for the overtime wages owed, interest on the amount, and attorney fees. Therefore, however small the owed OT wages are, you shouldn’t shy away from seeking compensation if you have a solid claim. Any action or practice by the employer that violates your rights under the labor laws should not be allowed to slide.

The statute of limitation for filing the suit is three years from the date of the latest breach of your employment rights. If this duration lapses without filing a claim, you can’t take any legal action against your employer. So, the moment your employer refuses to pay overtime wages, you should reach out to a profound employment law attorney to commence the process of recovering the wages you are owed. An attorney will evaluate your claim and advise you on whether you should pursue compensation and the proper channels to follow.

The attorney can file a claim on your behalf through the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE). Alternatively, you could claim the unpaid OT wages through California’s Labor Commissioner’s Office. Once you have filed your claim, the commissioner might take any of the following actions:

  • Throw out your wage claim

  • Bring up the case to a conference. Here, you and your boss will have the chance to settle the issue out of court. In addition, they will communicate the conference’s time, date, and location through mail to all the relevant parties.

  • Refer the claim to a hearing if no settlement is reached at the conference. In the proceeding, all the parties, witnesses included, will have a chance to testify under oath, after which you will be served with an Order, Decision, or Award (ODA) by the commissioner of labor. However, you must understand that ODAs are not permanent. If you are not pleased with the outcome, you can always appeal the decision in a civil court. However, going to court without legal representation increases the risk of losing the case, which is why the DSLE appoints an employment law attorney on your behalf when you can’t afford one. Also, if the decision by the Labor Commissioner is in your favor but the boss fails to pay owed OT wages, the civil court enters a verdict against them. Here, you can collect the owed wages in person or seek assistance from the DSLE.

The other action you can take your boss for owed OT wages is filing a customary lawsuit.

Recoverable Damages in a California Overtime Wage Suit

If the complaint or lawsuit outcome is in your favor, you are eligible for several damages. The damages you can claim in an unpaid OT wage lawsuit depend on your particular circumstances. The damages you can recover are unique to every employee, but the common ones are:

  • Court expenses

  • Attorney costs

  • The number of overtime wages owed

  • The interest on the unpaid overtime wages

When your employer violates California Labor Code 510 voluntarily and not because of a good-faith mistake, you can claim liquidated damages which consist of the owed overtime wages plus the interest rate on this amount. On top of these damages, you are also entitled to a waiting time penalty.

On the other hand, if the employer violates the guidelines provided under the FLSA, you are entitled to obtain damages equal to the owed OT wages or double the recoverable damages.

Retaliation By Your Employer for Filing an Unpaid OT Wage Claim

When you take legal action against your employer, they are likely to retaliate. Luckily, the law prohibits employers from retaliating against workers who exercise their rights under the Labor Code 510. If your boss takes any retaliatory action like termination, you could sue them for wrongful termination or file a complaint with the Labor Office.

Under the wage and hour law, most complaints are for unpaid overtime. Your boss might be denying or underpaying your OT wages due to ignorance or intentional wage theft. You are entitled to claim the amount you are owed. Recovering these damages isn’t a walk in the park, but when you involve an employment law legal expert, your chances of obtaining your OT wages will be high.

Find an Employment Attorney Near Me

If you’re an employee and your boss, current or former, has underpaid or refused to pay your overtime wages, you have a legal right to seek compensation. Unfortunately, you may not understand the actions you are required to take when your employer doesn’t pay your OT wages, which is why you need an employment attorney to guide you through the process. At Stop Unpaid wages, we are available to discuss your case and help you recover damages for unpaid overtime in the whole of California. Call us today at 424-781-8411 for a free consultation.