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Can I sue my boss and/or the owner of the company for not paying wages under California wage law?

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Can I sue my boss for not paying me wages?

Can my boss be liable for not paying me wages?

Can I sue my boss for not paying me correctly?

Can I Sue My Boss Individually For Not Paying Me For Overtime?

 
These are all related questions that I am often asked about.  While they are all related, there are nuances to each question.
 
California has some of the strongest wage laws in the United States, if not THE strongest wage laws that protect workers. The California Supreme Court laid out how and why California workers are protected by the California Labor Code and the California Wage Orders in the landmark Brinker case. Brinker  v. Superior Court, 53 Cal. 4th 1004, 1033 (2012) I know the Brinker case well, because I represented the workers in the Brinker case. 
 
Under California wage law you can sue your employer for unpaid wages and penalties.  For many workers, the "employer" is a company.  Thus, you can enforce California's wage laws against the company. 
 
However, there are instances when you may want to hold your boss, supervisor, manager and/or the owner of the company personally responsible for not paying wages under California law. 
 
In this article, I will discuss how you can sue your boss and/or the owner of the company for not paying wages owed under California law. This article is based upon California wage law.
 
Happiness is getting a big check for my unpaid wages!
 
Happiness is getting a big check for my unpaid wages!

Can I sue my boss and/or the owner of the company for not paying wages in California?

Yes, under California law, you can sue your boss and/or the owner of the company for not paying wages under California Labor Code and/or the California wage orders.
 
The general rule in California is that you can only sue your employer for unpaid wages. Reynolds v. Bement 36 Cal.4th 1075, 1085-1089 (2005)  For most employees, the employer is a company.  Thus, the the general rule has been that you could only sue the company for unpaid wages.
 
However, that changed with the PAGA laws. Under the PAGA laws, you can now sue your boss, supervisor, manager and/or company owner for unpaid wages. However, the unpaid wages are now PAGA penalties. 
 
Labor Code section 558, subdivision (a) provides that an employer “or other person acting on behalf of an employer” who violates or causes a violation of the state's applicable overtime laws shall be subject to a civil penalty. Atempa v. Pedrazzani, 27 Cal. App. 5th 809, 811-812 (2018).
 
Similarly, section 1197.1, subdivision (a) provides that an employer “or other person acting either individually or as an officer, agent, or employee of another person” who pays or causes to pay an employee less than the state's applicable minimum wage shall be subject to a civil penalty. Atempa v. Pedrazzani, 27 Cal. App. 5th 809, 811-812 (2018).
 
Labor Code Private Attorneys General Act  (PAGA) authorizes an aggrieved employee to recover these civil penalties in lieu of the LWDA. California Labor Code Section 2699(a).
 
You can only sue your boss, supervisor, manager and/or company owner for unpaid wages in California if you file a PAGA lawsuit.  A PAGA lawsuit is different from a lawsuit for wages and penalties brought under the California Labor Code and/or California Wage Orders
 
 

In this article I answer these questions and address these issues: 

Why do I need to be able to show that my boss and/or the owner of the company violated and/or caused a violation of California wage laws?
 
Don’t overlook this step - "somebody done somebody wrong song".
 
Why do I have to bring an unpaid wages case against my boss, supervisor, manager and/or company owner under California’s Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA) laws?
 
Who gets the PAGA wages and penalties? Under PAGA Section 558 wages are civil penalties and thus 75% go to the State and 25% got to the aggrieved employees
 
Would you rather get 100% of no money (when the company can force your unpaid wages case into arbitration) or 25% of the PAGA penalties?
 
Do I get anything extra if I bring the PAGA case? 
 
What are the reasons why I may want to sue my boss and/or company owner in an unpaid wages case?
 
Bankruptcy and/or the threat of bankruptcy - how suing your boss and/or company owner levels the playing field.
 
Suing your boss and/or company owner when the company has a forced arbitration agreement.
 
Can I sue my boss for not paying me wages?
 
Can my boss be liable for not paying me wages?
 
Can I sue my boss for not paying me correctly?

Don’t forget to serve a PAGA notice which lays out your theories of liability under PAGA as against your boss, manager, supervisor and/or company owner.

When you sue your boss - you can only get PAGA penalties

Why is Bill Turley asked to testify concerning wage law legislation at the California State Senate and the California Assembly?

Bill testifying about California wage law

Bill is known as a No B.S. straight-shooter lawyer

 
Believe it or not, Bill is known for being a no B.S. straight-up lawyer. Besides being known as one of the leading experts on this area of the law in California, one of the reasons why Bill is asked to testify at legislature hearings is because he is known for being straight-forward and blunt. He is known for being no B.S., with no lawyer-talk, no double-talk.
 
Bill is going to tell you that you have to be able to win your case with the truth.  The truth will not only set you free, but it's the only way to win an unpaid wages lawsuit. 
 
It's no accident that Bill is asked to testify before the California legislature. The folks in Sacramento know that he's going to be straight-up.  Bill now only testified about the latest changes to the PAGA laws, but he also helped write the new PAGA laws. 
 

Why do I  need to be able to show that my boss and/or the owner of the company violated and/or caused a violation of California wage laws?

In order to hold your boss, supervisor, managers and/or the owner of the company liable for not paying wages under California law, you need to show that the boss, supervisor, manager and/or or owner violated the law and/or caused the law to be violated. Atempa v. Pedrazzani, 27 Cal. App. 5th 809, 811-812 (2018).
 
As the court in Atempa held:
 
The business structure of the employer is irrelevant; if there is evidence and a finding that a party other than the employer “violates, or causes to be violated” the overtime laws (§ 558(a)) or “pays or causes to be paid to any employee” less than minimum wage (§ 1197.1(a)), then that party is liable for certain civil penalties regardless of the identity or business structure of the employer. Atempa v. Pedrazzani, 27 Cal. App. 5th 809, 820, 238 Cal. Rptr. 3d 465, 474 (2018).

Don’t overlook this step - "somebody done somebody wrong song" 

It’s not just you suing the boss, supervisor, manager and/or company owner and they will just up and pay you the wages that you’re owed. You’re going to have to show that the individual that you sued either made the illegal wage policy, helped make the illegal wage policy and/or enforced the illegal wage policy. In other words, you're going to have to show that your boss, supervisor, manager and/or company owner did something wrong. As they say in the country song, "somebody done somebody wrong song".
 
This is different than most (but not all) California Labor Code violations and California Wage Order violations. With most of California's wage laws - once you prove that the company didn't follow California's wage laws, then you can recover your wages from your employer.
 
Not so, when you hold your boss, supervisor, manager and/or company owner responsible. You are going to need to go a step further.  You need to show that they personally violated the law or caused the law to be violated. 
 
In other words, that they helped create the illegal policy and/or practice, enforced the illegal policy and/or practice and/or took some act that caused the law to be violated. 
 

Why do I have to bring an unpaid wages case against my boss, supervisor, manager and/or company owner under California’s Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA) laws?

Before PAGA was enacted, you could only sue your employer for unpaid wages or penalties. Reynolds v. Bement 36 Cal.4th 1075, 1085-1089 (2005).  You could not sue your boss, manager, supervisor and/or the owner of the company for not paying you wages. That all changed with PAGA. 
 
The purpose of PAGA “is to supplement enforcement actions by public agencies, which lack adequate resources to bring all such actions themselves.” Arias v. Superior Court (2009) 46 Cal.4th 969, 986. In PAGA the Legislature created an "enforcement mechanism for aggrieved employees to file representative actions to recover penalties in cases in which there is no private cause of action as an alternative to enforcement by the Labor Commissioner.” In short, under section 2699, subdivision (a), “an ‘aggrieved employee’ may bring a civil action … to recover civil penalties for Labor Code violations.”  Arias v. Superior Court (2009) 46 Cal.4th 969, 980.

“Section 2699, subdivision (a) … ‘permits aggrieved employees to recover civil penalties that previously could be collected only by LWDA.’” Thurman v. Bayshore Transit Management, Inc., 203 Cal. App. 4th 1112, 1126 (2012).   
 
Thus, in order to bring a case under California Labor Code Sections 558 and/or 1197.1 you have to bring these causes of action under a PAGA lawsuit.
 
Section 558 allows you to  sue , "Any employer or other person acting on behalf of an employer..." California Labor Code Section 558(a). Similarly, 1197.1 allows you to sue,  "Any employer or other person acting either individually or as an officer, agent, or employee of another person..." California Labor Code Section 1197.1(a).
 
However, before PAGA both of these California Labor Code Sections were interpreted to mean that only the California Labor Commissioner could bring claims against bosses, supervisors, managers and/or company owners.  What PAGA does is allow you (by bringing a claim as a Private Attorney General) to sue the company on behalf of the State of California for penalties.  This is why 75% of penalties go to the State.  If 75% of penalties didn't go to the State, most PAGA cases would be sent to private arbitration. Read on to understand why.
 

Who gets the PAGA wages and penalties? Under PAGA Section 558 wages are civil penalties and thus 75% go to the State and 25% got to the aggrieved employees

Both of the section 558(a) awards in the judgment to be civil penalties are subject to “the general rule that civil penalties recovered in a PAGA action are distributed 75 percent to the [LWDA] and 25 percent to the aggrieved employees (§ 2699, subd. (i)).” Thurman v. Bayshore Transit Management, Inc., 203 Cal. App. 4th 1112, 1145 (2012); Atempa v. Pedrazzani, 27 Cal. App. 5th 809, 828-829 (2018).
 
I recently had a reader comment posted on one of my web pages that suggested that it was a “rip-off” for 75% of the PAGA penalties to go to the State of California. While I understand the feeling, I also think that it may be a tad displaced. Let me explain:
 
There are two situations when PAGA goes where other California Labor Code and California Wage Order wage violations can’t.
 
First, is when your employer makes you sign a forced arbitration agreement. When this happens you can sue your employer for wage violations. Instead, you are forced to arbitration where you have very little chance of prevailing. The reason why a PAGA case can’t be forced to arbitration is because you are suing on behalf of the State of California and 75% of the penalties go to the State. If all the PAGA penalties went to the workers, then your PAGA case would be forced to arbitration hell.
 
Secondly, as with what happened in the Atempta case. In Attempta the company went bankrupt.  Once this happened there was no one to collect unpaid wages from. Thus, the workers in Attempta were able to being a PAGA case against the owner of the bankrupt company that the employees worked for. it was the workers only chance to get paid all of the wages that they earned that were not paid to them. 
 

Would you rather get 100% of no money (when the company can force your unpaid wages case into arbitration) or 25% of the PAGA penalties? 

 
Make no mistake about it, without the PAGA case, then the employees would be unable to sue the owner of the company for the wage violations. Thus, 75% going to the State and 25% of the unpaid wages going to the employees is far better than zero wages going to the employees. 
 
So that's your choice: bring a class action case or an unpaid wages case and get forced into an arbitration where its "tails the company wins and heads you lose." Or, bring a PAGA case where the aggrieved employees can get 25% of millions of dollars in PAGA penalties.  When you think about it with a cool clear head, the PAGA case doesn't seem so bad even when the State gets 75% of the penalties. 
 
By the way, if you don't like forced arbitration, join the club. If you voted for the Republicans you can thank the Republican U.S. Supreme Court for screwing workers. I suggest you read the exposé on forced arbitration in the New York Times: Arbitration Everywhere, Stacking the Deck of Justice.
 
You'll see the fix is in for companies to steal from workers and get away scot-free.  You're lucky you work in California and you can still bring a PAGA lawsuit for unpaid wages. 

Do I get anything extra if I bring the PAGA case? 

In addition, to your proportionate share of the settlement like all employees, usually the Judge will award a "service award" to the aggrieved employee who brings the PAGA claim
 
Under most circumstances the company is going to want a broad release against the person that brought the PAGA action. In exchange for the broader release and/or as a service award most Judges will award more money to the person bringing the PAGA lawsuit. While every court is different and has discretion, many courts award $5,000 to $10,000. Again, this is up to the Judge in your case. 
 

What are the reasons why I may want to sue my boss and/or company owner in an unpaid wages case?

There are several reasons why you may want to sue your boss and/or company owner in an unpaid wages case. 
 

Bankruptcy and/or the threat of bankruptcy - how suing your boss and/or company owner levels the playing field 

I can't tell you how many times I've attended mediations (a way that big cases get settled) and had the defense lawyer and/or mediator say that  "it's no big deal if the company goes bankrupt" due to having to pay a judgment in an unpaid wages case. They almost always say it with a smirk or a "gotcha" type look. 
 
One quick way to get that smirk off of their face is to either name the company owner and/or company officers as defendants in the case. You can respond to their smirk with quiet confidence that lays out how the company managers and owners can be liable for wages under Labor Code Section 558, 1197.1 and PAGA. 
 
It seems to level the playing field when the company managers come to realize that they can be held personally responsible for not paying the workers the wages that they are owed under California law. 
 

Suing your boss and/or company owner when the company has a forced arbitration agreement 

 
Wage class actions can be shut down by a forced arbitration agreement. Not so with a PAGA case. It's almost like raising the ante in a poker game. It shows the company that you're serious about getting the workers their unpaid wages. 
 


Can I sue my boss for not paying me wages?

Yes, when you bring a PAGA case under California Labor Code Sections 558 and 1197.1; you can sue your boss, supervisor and/or  for not paying you wages. You will need to show that your boss, supervisor and/or manager either made the illegal wage policy and/or enforced the illegal wage policy.

Can my boss be liable for not paying me wages?

Yes. Your boss can be liable for the non-payment of wages under California Labor Code Section 558 and 1197.1 when you bring a PAGA action.
 

Can I sue my boss for not paying me correctly?

Yes, if your boss pays you incorrectly, you can sue your boss under the PAGA laws for violation of California Labor Code Section 558 and 1197.1.
 

Can I Sue My Boss Individually For Not Paying Me For Overtime?

Yes, you can name the company and/or your boss in the lawsuit for unpaid wages under PAGA and California Labor Code Section 558 and 1197.1.
 

Don’t forget to serve a PAGA notice which lays out your theories of liability under PAGA as against your boss, manager, supervisor and/or company owner

You are going to have to serve a PAGA written notice to both the employer and the Labor and Workforce Development Agency BEFORE you file a lawsuit. 
 
In addition, providing specificity as to the PAGA wage violations, I suggest that you provide enough specificity in the notice - if possible - laying out why you think your boss, supervisor, manager and/or owner caused the wage violations, made the illegal policies, enforced the illegal policies and/or was in some manner related to you and the other aggrieved employees not getting paid correctly.
 

 

When you sue your boss - you can only get PAGA penalties

Just to make sure there is not confusion here. You can sue your boss (manager, supervisor, etc.) - as I explained early in this article.  However, you can only recover PAGA penalties.  
 
There is a recent California Supreme Court case that says that you can bring a PAGA case when there is no private right of action/ private cause of action. But, you are limited to PAGA penalties. 
 
...section 558 has no private right of action. Nor can employees recover the unpaid wages described in section 558 in a PAGA claim—even though section 558 permits the Labor Commissioner to include that amount in a citation. ZB, N.A. v. Superior Court, 8 Cal. 5th 175, 197-198 (2019)


Questions or if you need help right now?

 
 
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This article isn't legal advice
 

These discussions and/or examples are not legal advice. All legal situations are different. These testimonials, endorsements, photos and/or discussions do not constitute a guarantee, warranty, or prediction regarding the outcome of your legal matter, your particular case/ situation. Every case is different. There are any number of reasons why class actions are not certified, not won and/or PAGA actions are not successful.
 
Just because we have gotten great results in so many other unpaid wage cases, doesn't guarantee in particular result in other cases. Including, your wage case. Every case is different. In other words, your mileage may vary.
William Turley
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“When I seek out professional advice, I don’t want B.S., I want it straight up. I figure you do also.”
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