The livelihood of every US worker depends not only on having a good job and working hard from day to day, but also on the basic ability to trust his or her employer to follow all wage and benefits laws and delivers your correct and full compensation in a timely manner. But the fact is, wage and benefits disputes between employees and employers are all too common and can become extremely serious.
At Stop Unpaid Wages, we are here to fight for you to ensure you receive all of your rightful reimbursements for your employment time and productivity. We provide you with information so you can better understand your situation legally, and we stand ready to provide you with the legal advice and representation you need to win, if necessary, in court to retrieve any unpaid wages.
For assistance in collecting your wages and securing your benefits and in resolving all disputes with your employer or former employer over any and all forms of compensation in the state of California, feel free to contact Stop Unpaid Wages today by calling 424-781-8411!
Understanding Wage & Benefits Laws
There's no doubt about it, the expectation of being reimbursed fairly and according to former agreement for one's labors in the form of wages and employee benefits is what keeps America working from day to day. Better pay, a superior health insurance plan, paid off days, free child care, and various other benefits are part of what entices workers to apply with one employer over another. There is as much competition for good labor as for customers among businesses in California, and "false advertising" of wage/benefits is as serious a violation of state and federal law as is making false claims to consumers to gain their patronage.
Workers' protections are a basic right, and when these legal protections are violated with impunity, workers have recourse to the courts to resolve disputes and try to collect what they deem as unfairly withheld pay, benefits, and other "perks."
Minimum Wage Laws
Both state and federal legislation establishes a minimum wage for all workers in California. You cannot be paid below the minimum wage simply because your employer decides the job isn't worth paying that much for, because of your age, race, gender, national origin, or immigration status, or as a punishment for allegedly unproductive work performance earlier. And whichever minimum wage is higher (state or federal) is the standard that must be adhered to by your employer.
However, there are a few exceptions to the minimum wage under The Fair Labor Standards Act. First of all, there is a youth minimum wage of $4.25 that can be paid legally for up to 90 days (not business days or work days but calendar days) from initial employment. Thus, this is a kind of training/youth wage for certain student learners. Also, some who are physically or mentally impaired can be paid at the lower minimum wage rate if they are unable to perform the job at the usual standards - this rule exists to help prevent such people from losing their job not to allow employers to take advantage of them!
However, in order for an employer to legally pay the lower "sub-minimum" wage rate, they have to apply and get official recognition and certification for such purposes from the US Department of Labor. They can't legally just decide on their own that the case qualifies and start paying accordingly. All too often, employers illegally pay a youth or training wage to those who are actually entitled to the full minimum wage or higher. This can be grounds for a very winnable lawsuit.
Laws Regarding Tips
For those who receive compensation for work rendered not only in wages and benefits but also in tips, you are not generally entitled to the same minimum wage pay as other non-tip earning employees. The standard changes periodically, but you usually have to be paid around $2.50 or higher per hour (but not full minimum wage nor yet youth/training minimum wage) IF you earn $30 or more in tips per month.
However, there is a caveat here. Your total amount earned in wages plus tips divided by hours worked must still equal minimum wage or higher - or else your employer should have paid you a higher wage (enough to make up the difference and get you to minimum wage equivalent overall.)
Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), most employers are required to pay time and a half overtime wages to most employees. State laws may also enter into the fray here, but in general, any time worked over 40 hours in a week qualifies for overtime pay.
Many workers are wrongfully deprived of their overtime pay by employers who want to work them excessive hours but not pay the higher rate for the extra hours because "that would cost too much." They don't want to hire a new employee either because that also would incur extra costs and complexity like signing them up for benefits and putting the newbies through orientation and training. But it is not legal for companies to opt out of the overtime pay program, and workers can take legal actions whenever this happens. Sadly, for fear of being fired, many remain silent and "just take it." Realize that employers can't legally fire you for suing for your overtime pay nor are you prevented from suing for such pay from a previous employer.
However, there are a few situations where workers are not entitled to overtime pay. To qualify for it, you have to be a "nonexempt" employee. So, who is "exempt" and therefore not entitled to 150% pay rates for overtime? Here is the fourfold test:
- You make more than, at present, $23,600 per year or $455 per week.
- You are a "salaried employee," meaning you get paid a specific minimum dollar amount per year or other time period rather than everything going by per hour or piece work.
- You are in management. Normally, managers don't automatically get overtime pay under the FLSA.
- Your job-type excludes you from FLSA protection here. Jobs not entitle to overtime pay include: small farm workers, subcontractors, tech help that makes over $27 per hour, off-site sales staff, babysitters, theme park employees, paper delivery workers, and all volunteer workers.
Other Wage Violations
Of course, there are other wage issues and corresponding wage violations by employers that often occur aside from those mentioned already above. For example, employers must pay you for required training time including mandatory harassment training sessions. They even have to pay you for travel time to the training site if it is held off-site.
Also, having employees work off the clock in order to avoid paying them for all of their worked hours and/or all of their overtime hours is illegal. Deducting wages from an employee's check over goods received, such as for meals/food, is also against federal law in most instances.
Finally, deducting short breaks of five to twenty minutes from hours worked to reduce pay and hours (and thus overtime pay) is not permitted under federal law.
Employee Benefits Laws
Most businesses offer more compensation than simply straightforward wages. And the term "benefits" is broad enough to encompass all of these alternate forms of compensation. While some benefits are voluntarily offered by employers, others are required by law.
For example, employees must be allowed unpaid time off for family and medical leave - up to 12 weeks off to recover from childbirth and care for a newborn, to handle an adoption process, to care for a sick family member, or to be cared for if the employee him or her self has a serious health condition. To qualify for such leave, you have to worked for that employee for a year or more and worked 1,250 or more hours during the previous 12 months.
You can also take time off work to vote, serve on a jury, deal with domestic violence issues, maternity leave, and military leave (with guaranteed reemployment upon return from service).
Health Insurance Rights
Both health and retirement plans that are work-based, as well as most other employee benefits packages, are governed under ERISA (The Employee Retirement Income Security Act). And under ACA, most businesses that employ 50 or more people have to offer some form of work-based health insurance. And many companies who have no requirement to offer or facilitate any form of health insurance nonetheless do so because it's such a hugely important benefit that most top-tier skilled labor is looking for when deciding on where to seek employment.
First of all, no one is allowed to discriminate in the way they offer or administer health insurance and other employee benefits. Only giving scaled down benefits to those employees who are older or currently pregnant, or based on race, religion, or ethnicity, or because of a physical or mental disability, is illegal discrimination. A discrimination suit over illegally withheld or diminished benefits can force employers to pay for benefits they have not but should have delivered to their workers.
Under ERISA, employees must also be notified by the employer of the eligibility requirements, claims processes, and plan participant rights of all offered health (and other relevant) plans. It is not legal to keep all the important information on how a work-based health plan is run "secret" from employees.
If you believe you have wrongly been refused enrollment in a health insurance plan or other employee benefit plan, due to discrimination or some other ostensible reason, do not hesitate to reach out to us for help. We will listen to your story and help you see how your employer's actions align or do not align with federal and state of California benefits rules.
Pension Plan Rights
Discrimination, mismanagement, or other illegal activities in regard to employee pension and retirement plans is also a common cause of lawsuits. As there are numerous different types of retirement plans offered by different employers, the complexity of this area of law is great. But it is generally all governed by ERISA and applies to both current employees and already retired ones whose benefits may have been illegally cut off or reduced.
ERISA sets basic standards as to how pension plans must be run, who can qualify for them, how long you have to be employed for an employer for your pension to be unforfeitable, and when a surviving spouse has a right to all/some of a former employee's pension payments.
On average, US adults who retire and get a pension will live off of it, in apart at least, for 18 years. Social security and other investments may not be enough to live a comfortable lifestyle after decades of hard work - a retirement plan is thus of extreme importance to those who rely on one. And when your retirement income is at stake, it's well worthwhile to resort to experienced legal help to resolve the issue in a just way.
There are two major types of retirement plans in the US today. A "defined benefit plan" simply allows a worker a particular set amount of income per month starting at retirement/retirement age. It may be a set dollar amount for all, but normally the amount varies based on how long you worked, how much you made while working, and how much you paid into the plan across your career.
The second major type of retirement plan is called a "defined contribution plan." In this case, both employer and employee contribute a specific amount to the account, which then has a fluctuating value over the course of the years. A 401(k) is probably the most common of these types of plans, which involve investments and are more complex than defined benefit plans overall.
There are also other types of pension plans, including simplified employee pension plans, profit sharing plans, stock bonus plans, employee stock ownership plans, and more. Many people are not even sure about all the exact details of how these plans work, and they may not be sure if they are being deprived of their rightful due - it doesn't hurt to double check and call a lawyer for advice instead of just assuming and accepting the loss of income.
Additional Rules on Pension Plans
Under ERISA, pension plan administrators must provide you all of the most important information about your plan and/or any changes to it. Some of this information must be automatically provided and on a regular basis, while other elements only have to be disclosed upon request. Such disclosures should normally be done in written form.
You have the right to a summary plan description (SPD) that gives you all the basics in writing, including the process for filing a claim. In most cases, you have to be 21 years or older and have paid into the plan for at least one year before you are "vested" with the right to a benefit that cannot be legally forfeited. In other cases, you are 100% vested after 3 years, and in still others, it takes 6 years - with 20% after the first two years and 20% added each year afterwards till 100% after six.
Also, under ERISA protections, you have recourse if there is ever any mismanagement of your account by a trustee, administrator, or the investment committee. Those managing pension accounts must do so in the sole interest of the beneficiaries. Any failure or misconduct in this regard is grounds for an immediate lawsuit and may result in the offender being removed from his or her position.
It is also possible for employees to suffer loss of income due to the mishandling of tax and withholding issues by their employees. As workers don't make their own deductions - but the employer does, it's easy to not realize at first that anything is wrong. And of course, you should always try to resolve any suspected problems with your employer first before taking legal action. But when you have an issue and it's not just a mistake that will soon be cleared up by your employer willingly - then it may be time to seek out an experienced lawyer and do all possible to protect yourself.
Payroll taxes, being automatically deducted from your checks, are a big source of problems here. Taking too much out for income tax, Medicare, or Social Security and then not handling those funds promptly could result in your not being able to get those taxes back on your annual tax refund. Thus, you want to clear up any problems with payroll tax deductions as quickly as possible.
Another area to consider is when there is wage garnishment going on. Maybe an employee owes back taxes, owes money for child support or spousal support, or is having his or her wages garnished to pay for a civil settlement. But if the employer incorrectly calculates how much to deduct or mishandles the funds once deducted, then the employee has been seriously violated and has grounds for a lawsuit.
Time Off Work
Although we mentioned in passing the issue of time off above, we want to go into more detail here on off time as an employee benefit. In general, you think of benefits as something you get while at work or in terms of insurance or pensions, but being allowed to get off work when needed without fear of losing your job is also a key benefit.
After all, work is meant to produce income to support your family and your whole lifestyle - it's not meant to be the sum total of your life. Federal and state law requires employers to let you off to vote if you would not otherwise have time to do so. Of course, you should communicate with your employer ahead of time on such matters and retain proof of the fact you actually voted (instead of just killing time.) You also are permitted time off for jury duty and other civic duties.
Those in the reserve or other "part time" Armed Forces groups cannot be fired or disallowed time off when they need to perform their military duties to the United States. This is an unpaid leave of absence (the US government will pay its own personnel), but it cannot be denied. And those returning to work after tours of duty must be allowed their previous position at the same pay rate or a higher one. There is a process of reapplication, but so long as you go through it, and there are no other valid reasons for losing your job, you must be re-hired.
The Family and Medical Leave Act requires that employees be allowed time off to deal with certain family and medical related needs. You must be allowed time to care for a spouse, child, or parent with a serious health condition. The same applies when it's the employee himself who needs medical attention. And time must be allowed for pregnancy and birth and all related issues. Additionally, pregnant employees cannot be fired, laid off, or have their pay or benefits reduced because of the pregnancy.
There is never a requirement for paid time off, but if paid leave is allowed, it must be administered on a fair, non-discriminatory basis. Employees cannot be fired for using their paid off-days, for example, and they must be awarded on performance or other valid bases only.
Employer-Employee Wage and Benefits Disputes Lawyer Near Me
At Stop Unpaid Wages, we have the knowledge and resources it takes to win you your unpaid wages and benefits and prevail in other disputes you may have with your employer or former employer, in your behalf.
Whether your dispute has to do with federal wage and benefits laws or violations of state of California wage law, we are well equipped to successfully handle your case. Contact us anytime 24/7 for a free legal consultation by calling 424-781-8411 or via our online contact form to schedule your free consultation.