Overtime laws in California can be hard to understand. Also, determining whether you have a right to overtime wages or not, and if so, how the wage should be calculated can be confusing. If you believe that you are wrongly classified as a salaried exempt employee, it is crucial to consult a qualified wage and hour attorney. Our team of legal experts at Stop Unpaid Wages can guide you on what to do if you have been denied your rightfully owed overtime wages. Further, we will guide you on how to approach your boss and how to file a lawsuit in California.

Who are Exempt Employees in California?

Exempt workers are not subject to overtime laws. That means if you're an exempt worker, your boss doesn't need to pay you time and a half should you work more than 8 hours in a day or forty hours in a week. The employer is also not required to offer you lunch and rest breaks.

The employment law classifies the following categories of workers as exempt workers:

Administrative, Executive, and Professional Workers

Also referred to as a white-collar exemption, this is the most crucial and most extensive category of exempt employees. To be exempted under the category in question, you must:

  • Be fifty percent or more engaged in administrative, executive, or professional roles,
  • Regularly and customarily exercise independent discretion and judgment at work, and
  • Is paid a salary that is twice California's least wage for forty hours per week (full-time) work.

The least yearly salary required for a worker to be exempted under this category is $45,760. This figure is as of January 2019 and will go up with inflation. Well, it's a common myth that any person who has a desk job or earns a salary is an exempt worker under the white-collar exemption category.

Registered Nurses

Usually, registered nurses are non-exempt workers and receive overtime pay. However, there is an exemption. The exemption is in place if they are devoted to administrative or executive tasks as well as meet other requirements in the administrative, executive, and professional workers exemption category.

Computer Software Experts

Moreover, the Labor Code exempts computer software experts who work predominantly in computer hardware or software designs, computer system analysis, or program development or design.  Nevertheless, the following facts should be true:

  • The worker is mainly devoted to creative or intellectual work which requires exercising independent and discretion judgment,
  • The worker is proficient and skilled in the application of specialized information to software engineering, programming and computer system analysis, and
  • The computer software expert makes more than $94,603.25 annually paid monthly or $45.41 in an hour.

However, it is worth noting that the exemption doesn't apply to:

  • Entry-level workers and trainees who are still learning how to use highly specialized information,
  • Workers who haven't acquired the expertise and skills to work without close supervision,
  • People engaging in computer operations, manufacture, maintenance or repair of hardware,
  • Writers who write content related to software and computers,
  • People who use computer programming and system analysis to create imagery effects for TV, theater industry, or movie.

Surgeons and Doctors

Licensed surgeons and doctors who perform duties that need licensure are also exempted from overtime laws. Notably, this exemption doesn't apply to physicians covered by collective bargaining agreements, residents, or interns.

To meet this exemption requirement, the professional must make more than $82.72 in an hour.

Private School Teachers

Another category exempted from overtime laws in California is teachers working in private schools. To be eligible for the exemption, the teacher should:

  • Be predominately devoted to teaching,
  • Regularly and customarily exercise independent judgment and discretion, and
  • Have valid teaching credentials or a higher degree or bachelor's degree from a renowned university.

The exemption applies only to teachers making more than the amounts below:

  1. Hundred percent of the minimum pay given by any California school district to a credentialed teacher, and
  2. Seventy percent of the minimum salary offered to a credentialed teacher by a school district in the county or city where the school is situated.

The University of California and Government Employees

Every person working at the University of California, as well as both local and state governments, are exempted from meal break and overtime laws.

Workers Earning Commissions

The last category is employees who:

  • Make above one and a half times the lowest wage, and
  • Earn above half of the compensation from commissions.

Learning Who is Covered by the Fair Labor Standard Act (FLSA)

The FLSA is another far-reaching law that protects an employee's right to be paid, sets overtime requirements, defines the forty-hour workweek, and establishes the minimum wage. 

Employers Coverage

The Fair Labor Standard Act applies to companies that engage in interstate commerce or has a total annual sale of at least $500,000.  You may think this restricts the FLSA to cover only people working in huge companies. However, the truth is that this law includes almost all workstations. This is because the term interstate commerce is interpreted broadly.

For instance, companies that use the United States mail to receive and send letters to and from other states from time to time are considered to engage in interstate commerce. Also, employees using company computers or telephones to receive or make business calls subject their boss to the FLSA.

Employers who use very little outside paid labor like small farms are exempted from the FLSA.

Employees Coverage

Unless you are in the exempt category discussed above, you should receive overtime pay for hours worked. The hours should sum to over forty hours in a workweek at a rate that is one and a half of the standard pay rate. There is no restriction on the number of hours workers above 16 years of age can work in a workweek. The FLSA doesn't require overtime wages for work duties performed on weekends, regular rest days, or holidays unless overtime is worked on these days.

This act applies on a workweek basis. The workweek is a regularly recurring and fixed period of 7 consecutive twenty-four hour periods (168 hours). It is not a must that it coincides with the calendar week, but it can start at any hour of any day. Different employees establish different workweeks.

What Can You Do if Your Boss Misclassifies You as an Exempt Employee?

Any experienced employment law attorney will tell you that they have experienced numerous cases of companies misclassifying non-exempt workers as exempt. This is done as a way of avoiding meeting labor law requirements.

Usually, the employers count the workers not familiar with the labor law and consider the employees exempt because they have a desk job and earn a salary instead of an hourly wage. Sometimes, the employee could even be asked to sign an overtime-exempt contract and then given a lot of work off the clock.

Your lawyer should help you bring a wage or hour claim against your boss to receive overtime pay, which was unlawfully denied to you.

Work off the Clock

Work off the clock can be defined as work that you do without being paid. Perfect examples could include redoing or revising a project upon your employer's request or administrative work, like completing medical charts and paperwork.

There are also instances where it is work that should be compensated at your standard pay rate.

While most salaried workers are exempted under the white-collar exception, many are not. Therefore, if you work more hours without additional pay, you can pursue a claim against your employer.

To successfully file a claim against your company as a result of work off the clock, you should prove that:

  • You worked for your boss for which you didn't receive compensation
  • Your boss knew you were working, and
  • Your boss stood idly by and didn't do act to see that you receive payment or stop you from doing the work off the clock

Is It Necessary to Bring a Wage/Hour Claim for Only a Small Amount of Overtime Wages?

Most employees think that it's not essential bringing a lawsuit if their employer owes them only a couple of dollars. Nevertheless, in overtime claims, the worker is entitled to recover their unpaid overtime wages alongside attorney's charges and interest.

According to federal law, a company that breaks any provision of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), overtime pay law is accountable to the worker(s) affected. The company should pay the employees the full amount of their overtime compensation or unpaid minimum pay. Moreover, the boss could be responsible for another equivalent amount as liquidated damages.

Because your overtime pay isn't a considerable amount of money, that doesn't mean you ought not to file a lawsuit. The company must be held liable for the violation of labor laws. Besides that, the employer could also be taking advantage of other workers.

How to File a Wage Claim

To file a claim, the plaintiff should complete a DLSE Form 1 (Initial Claim or Report) before filing it with the Department of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE).  The DLSE Form 1 will ask you to give details about your boss, what penalties or wages you're claiming, and your regular work schedule.

Your lawyer should be able to guide you complete the form alongside other supplemental forms.

These forms can be filed either in person at the nearby DLSE's office or by mail.

Essential Documents to Attach

While you may not require attaching any document to the claim, the Department of Labor Standards Enforcement could ask for the records below. The papers will be used to assess how much your employer owes you:

  • Time records- These are copies of documents showing the number of hours you have worked. They could include notes written on a journal or calendar entities.
  • Copies of paystubs you got for the period that you're claiming your unpaid wages
  • A copy of Notice to Employee- This is the notice which your boss was supposed to issue you after employing you. The notice has details about you as an employee, your boss, their address and name, and hourly rate.

Also, the DLSE will require your company to provide the documents mentioned above. Therefore, you don't have to worry if you do not have any record supporting the claim. You can also attach your employment contract or any other document with your company's promise to offer you a given rate.

What are the Statutes of Limitations for Bringing a Lawsuit?

Like various wage violations, overtime violation claims should be filed with three (3) years of the offense. If the violation were ongoing, the Department of Labor Standards Enforcement would look back 3 years from the date you brought the claim.

If the lawsuit is founded on your boss's oral promise to offer you a salary that is above the minimum wage, you have two years to bring a lawsuit. Moreover, if the claim is founded on a written contract, you have four years to bring the claim.

In both cases, it is wise to bring your lawsuit immediately. That way, you can get access to witnesses and documents to support your claim with ease.

How Much Will You be Awarded for Unpaid Overtime Lawsuit?

The amount of compensation awarded in an unpaid overtime lawsuit depends on the circumstances of the case. Common damages awarded include:

  • The total amount of due wages
  • Lawyers' charges
  • Unpaid wages interest, and
  • Court fees

If your boss broke federal labor law under the FLSA, you could also be awarded liquidated damages. These damages are equivalent to the total amount of unpaid wages or double damages.

Labor laws in California, on the other hand, require you to receive double damages if the employer's violation wasn't as a result of a good-faith mistake. Liquidated damages consist of an amount that is the same as unpaid wages and interest.

Can Your Employer Fire You for Bringing a Due Overtime Claim?

Under California employment laws, it is unlawful for a boss to retaliate against an employee for exercising their rights. If your boss takes a retaliatory action such as firing you for filing the lawsuit or citing wage/hour violations, the boss is engaging in unlawful termination.

According to wrongful termination law, you're entitled to be awarded to the following damages:

  • Lost Wages- This consists of back pay that you are reasonably expected to have made had you not been wrongfully fired.
  • Emotional pain or distress and suffering- This includes compensation for loss of enjoyment in life, humiliation, anxiety, physical pain, and mental suffering as a result of the wrongful termination.
  • Punitive damages- Punitive damages are tailored to punish an employer for their actions. These damages don't necessarily need to be linked to the economic or non-economic loss you have suffered.
  • Attorney's fees.

Importance of Hiring an Experienced Employment Attorney

First, your lawyer will help you determine whether your company has violated a state or federal law or not. Second, the lawyer should give you options that will challenge the employer's unlawful conduct. They will also discuss with you whether the case is worth pursuing.

Discuss Different Options

When your employer breaks wage and hour laws, you can sue your employer. However, there are many other options.

For instance, in California, you can bring a claim for misclassification against your boss with the California labor department. The agency then schedules a hearing to issue a finding on your claim. This alternative is both quicker and pocket-friendly. However, it has disadvantages like closing out the opportunity of filing a lawsuit and limiting the value of damages awarded.

Another practical option is contacting your employer with a formal intention to negotiate a settlement of the wage claim.

Your attorney should be able to help you compare different available options so that you can decide on what to do wisely.

Cost and Benefit Analysis

Your lawyer will assess the possibility of prevailing in any of the above-discussed options. Further, they will take into account the cost of undertaking each of the options. You will then discuss the attorney's charges you will pay to pursue damages and what you will be awarded in damages.

You are Not Alone: Engaging in Employment Class Actions

While it is possible to file a wage and hour claim in California individually, doing so could be impractical. This is because individual lawsuits are quite small hence tricky to find an attorney as well to justify litigation expenses. However, by joining together, employees in similar situation share costs and increase the case value.

Moreover, class actions are sensible because when you are misclassified as an exempt employee, there is a likelihood that your colleagues are too, particularly in large organizations.  Whether your boss deliberately skirts the law as a way of cutting costs or their noncompliance is an error, wage and hour law violations rarely happen in isolation.      

Advantages of a Class Action

A class action increases the resources and time an employment lawyer can dedicate to a case. Typically, the lawyer's fee in a wage and hour lawsuit is a portion of the total amount an employee recovers. With a significant number of plaintiffs, the amount compensated will be more. Consequently, this justifies a more substantial investment by your lawyer.

Besides, a class action increases the employer's economic stakes. In other words, the employer may accept a settlement to pay the workers the unpaid overtime wages it owes the employees without the expense and time of a trial.

Legal Requirements of a Class Action

Any successful wage and hour class action claim consist of the requirements below:

  • A sufficiently and ascertainable class of plaintiff workers
  • A distinct community of interest and
  • Considerable benefits from a class action which make the class action desirable compared to other options for a wage and hour claim

Of the above three factors, the most essential is the community of interest, which involves:

  • A primarily common question of fact or law,
  • Class representatives who can represent the class adequately, and
  • Class representatives with defenses or claims typical of the class.

What this means is that a class action in a wage and hour claim is probably more successful when:

  • A considerable number of workers are involved in a wage and hour violation by one employer,
  • The offense was similar to all the workers,
  • The violation facts were identical or the same for the workers, and
  • Individual workers with a typical situation are ready to serve as a class representative

A perfect example of a class action could when your employer misclassifies a sizable number of workers with the same job description as exempt workers. Moreover, as a result, fails to pay them overtime.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Happens if you Can't Afford to Hire a Lawyer?

Most employment attorneys in California work on contingency. That means your lawyer will not get paid until you do. If the claim is successful, the attorney will then get a portion of the damages awarded. Since wage/hour law requires the company to pay the employee's attorney's charges in successful claims, this won't reduce the total amount you recover.

How Long Does an Unpaid Wage and Hour Lawsuit Take?

Every case is unique, and the amount of time required concluding the case depends mainly on factors such as the court and the employer. If a lawsuit isn't necessary and a pre-lawsuit settlement can be reached, most cases are resolved in a few months. In the event, a lawsuit is essential; the case will take a year or more to reach trial. 

What Activities are considered as Work under Federal Overtime Law?

The law holds that work time includes time spent performing job-related activities that will benefit your employer. Also, these are activities that the employer should know about and will not ban you from completing them. They include activities performed at the workplace or elsewhere, during the off-the-clock time.

Finding an Experienced Employment Attorney Near Me

Even though  you are a salaried exempt employer, you should know the overtime provisions for your occupation. To be sure that you are not cheated, it is wise to discuss your options with a lawyer. The FLSA has overtime exemptions, but there are many factors to determine whether your boss owes you overtime wages. Do not accept to be shortchanged. Overtime violations can cost you huge sums of money. Stop Unpaid Wages handles different aspects of employment law in California. You have nothing to lose by reaching out to find out if you can file an overtime lawsuit. Contact our office today at 424-781-8411 for more information or case evaluation.