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Wage claims: What they are and how to file

California labor laws protect employees from unfair wage and hour practices. If you feel you haven't been paid proper wages, or you haven't received overtime pay, you have options. 

When matters can be resolved internally with your employer, you have the right to file a wage claim with the Labor Commissioner's Office. Before doing so, it is important to understand what wage claims cover and how to file properly.

In California, all employees or former employees of private companies can file a wage claim, regardless of immigration status. Individual claim forms can be filed to recover a range of damages, including:

  • Unpaid wages, including overtime, bonuses and commissions
  • Wages paid by accounts with insufficient funds
  • Final paychecks that are not received
  • Unused vacation hours that were not paid when employment was terminated
  • Unauthorized paycheck deductions
  • Non-reimbursed business expenses
  • Failure to provide meals or rest periods as required by law
  • Failure to receive minimum wage for hours worked
  • Unpaid sick leave time

You must file a wage claim within three years for most violations. Prepare to file by gathering all documents to help prove your claim, including pay stubs, time sheets, work calendars or other documentation regarding your work hours. It also may be beneficial to note all of your employer's assets, such as property, equipment and inventory. This information might be helpful in collecting lost wages.

Once you are ready to file, fill out the "Initial Report or Claim" form and sign it. File it in person or send it by mail to the Labor Commissioner's district that handles wage claims in the city where you worked. You also may want to consider hiring a lawyer to guide you through the claims process and advocate for your best interests.

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