One of the worst acts a company can commit against its employees is the act of wage theft. People work hard, spend a majority of their lives in the service of powerful companies, and sometimes the fruits of their labor are stolen from them.
California companies use a number of sneaky tactics when it comes wage theft. Sometimes they misclassify employees, other times it’s creative bookkeeping, sometimes management simply pleads ignorance. However it happens, it’s unlawful, and employees have the right to demand compensation.
This article was written to briefly discuss the issue of wage theft as it relates to California law, as well as a recent case in which workers were denied proper payment by their employer. If you feel you’ve been a victim of wage theft, give our office a call.
California Based Restaurant Makes Headlines for the Wrong Reasons
Thanks to its business dealings with a shady subcontractor providing janitorial services, the Cheesecake Factory could find itself paying millions of dollars in employee back pay. Once touted as the unhealthiest restaurant in the US, the company can now add wage burglar to its resume.
According to a June 2018 New York Times article, which cited sources at the California Department of Industrial Relations, Cheesecake Factory hired janitorial workers through Americlean Janitorial Services, which subcontracted with Magic Touch Commercial Cleaning (later renamed Z’s Commercial Quality Cleaning). The janitors were hired to work in restaurant locations in Orange and San Diego Counties during graveyard shifts (midnight to morning).
Workers were denied meal and rest breaks and were prohibited from leaving until kitchen managers conducted walk-through inspections of their work. These time consuming walk-throughs led to each worker racking up as much as 10 hours of overtime each week (for which they weren’t paid).
The poor treatment of the janitors eventually came to the attention of state officials, and the ensuing investigation resulted in Magic Touch Cleaning being ordered to pay the workers $3.94 million in unpaid wages and damages. Additionally, the company was ordered to pay $632,750 in penalties. If Magic Touch doesn’t pay, Cheesecake Factory and Americlean Janitorial Services will be on the hook for paying $4.9 million.
One state official noted that Magic Touch’s decision to change its name was likely an attempt by the company to evade enforcement. It was also noted that the use of contractors and subcontractors serves to confuse the chain of liability. Sometimes, the chain of liability is so confusing, workers won’t even know who their employers are.
Wage Theft is a Big Problem for California Workers
In 2010, the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment University of California Los Angelespublished a report on wage theft in California. The study, conducted in conjunction with studies in Chicago and New York, surveyed 1,815 workers in Los Angeles County. Key findings included:
- Nearly 30 percent of surveyed workers were paid less than minimum wage in the week preceding the survey.
- 21 percent worked more than 40 hours for one employer in the previous week. Of these, 79 percent were not paid the legally required overtime pay by their employers.
- 45.3 percent of workers who experienced pay deductions were subject to illegal work-related deductions for uniforms, work tools or transportation.
The report noted that the prevalence of these wage violations was significantly higher in Los Angeles County than they were in other study areas.
Workers Have Rights
When it comes to overtime pay, rest breaks, and pay periods, California laws are in place to protect non-exempt workers.
-On the issue of overtime, Labor Code §510 states that a day’s work is eight hours. The law further states:
“Any work in excess of eight hours in one workday, and any work in excess of 40 hours in any one workweek…shall be compensated at the rate of no less than one and one-half times the regular rate of pay.”
–Rest breaks, are covered by Labor Code §512 (among other regulations). This section states that an employee working for a period of more than five hours a day must be provided a meal break of at least 30 minutes. An employee working more than 10 hours in a shift, must be given a second 30-minute meal break.
Additionally, the law provides rest break for women who are breast feeding and need to express milk, as well as for workers who require a cool down period in hot temperatures. If an employer violates these laws, workers might be entitled to compensation.
What is an Employer Entitled to if Denied Wages, Rest Breaks or Overtime?
This is a question that can best be answered in an employment attorney’s office. However, there are certain types of compensation workers can be entitled to when they win claims against their employers.
For instance, an employee might be awarded back pay. This type of award covers the wages an employee is denied due to wage theft.
Another type of award might be lost wages. This differs from back pay and often applies in situations in which an employee is wrongfully terminated. In simple terms, a person who is wrongfully terminated (perhaps for blowing the whistle on wage theft practices) and is unable to find work for a number of years, might be awarded his or her typical salary amount for each year without work. For example, a wrongfully terminated employee who makes $30,000 annually and is unable to find work for three years, could be eligible for $90,000 in lost wages.
In some cases, an employee who experiences wage theft or denial of rest breaks might be eligible for pain and suffering damages, and less commonly, punitive damages.
Wage Theft? Contact an Employment Attorney
There may be as many different ways for a company to cheat workers as there are workers in the world. Sadly, companies get away with unlawful behavior every day. But if you believe you’ve been denied your rightful wages, or have suffered some other workplace injustice, you might be able to seek compensation with the help of a good employment attorney.
It’s important to remember that the clock starts ticking once a violation has occurred. Generally speaking, a worker has a limited time frame in which to file a claim against a company following a wage theft violation. For public employees, this time frame is shorter. Whatever your case, it’s better to contact an attorney sooner than later.
Regardless of whether you’re a janitorial worker, a waitress, or a computer programmer, we know you work hard, and that you deserve to be properly compensated. If your employer has denied you your proper wages, then your employer has violated state law. If you have questions about wage theft, or some other area of employment law, contact the office of Branigan Robertson, to see what he can do for you.