More than a quarter of a billion dollars of wages went unpaid in California since 2010 according to a recent review of California Labor Commissioner’s Office records. Unfortunately, the real number is probably higher. Perhaps worst of all, only 17% of judgments were actually paid, according to the UCLA Labor Center.
Wage theft is a serious problem. Honest people are defrauded, working overtime without pay or losing meal breaks. Sometimes they are not paid the agreed rate. Labor laws provide a way for workers to file a complaint with the labor commissioner and possibly receive a judgment. However collecting on the judgment can be difficult, particularly if the company has limited funds or went out of business.
An important right available to victims of wage theft is the right of “private action.” Workers can hire an experienced employment attorney to enforce the California Labor Code on their behalf.
Attorneys can assist with collecting wages after wage theft and seek additional sources of money to pay the damages owed to a worker, if the employer is out of business. Payment bonds, insurance policies and other remedies can be used to ensure the money owed to the workers is recovered. Also, most employment attorneys work on a contingency-fee basis, so their costs and fees are only paid if money is actually collected. This provides an incentive for private attorneys to obtain all the evidence necessary to win the case.
Too many companies get away with wage theft and non-payment of valid judgments. Some simply ignore rulings against them while others file for bankruptcy or shut their doors only to reappear under a new name. Private attorneys play an important role in bringing these cases to light, advocating specifically for the worker and litigating until the damages have been collected for the victims of wage theft.
Read more about California’s Wage Theft Problem in this article from NBC Bay Area.