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How Long Do I Have to File a Wage and Hour Dispute in California?

Statute of Limitations for wage claims for California workers 

A statute of limitations is a law which sets out the maximum time that you have in order to file your wage claim under California law. 

The first thing that you need to know is that there are different statute of limitations for different wage claim causes of action. This can be a little confusing because there may be even more than one statute of limitation depending on what theory you are using to recover wages and/or penalties.
For example, you generally have three years to bring a claim for unpaid overtime in California. Thus, you have three years from the date which were not paid the overtime that you were owed in order to bring your claim. But you can increase this to 4 years if you bring a claim for unfair competition under the California Unfair Competition laws. 
Generally, the statute of limitations doesn’t run (read: begin) from the day you worked, but rather from the date that you were paid or supposed to be paid. Because, otherwise, how are you supposed to know that you weren’t being paid all the wages you are owed until the respective payday?

How long do I have in order to file a wages lawsuit in California? 

This is an important question for two reasons. First, in order to make sure it's not too late for you to bring an unpaid wages lawsuit. Second, in order to see how far bask you can go in order to recover money for unpaid wages under California wage laws. In this article I lay out all of the various time limits to bring a wage claim in California. 
The reason why this is important is because it's YOUR money we are talking about. It's YOUR money / wages that the company owes you.  Which brings us to the best part...... 
The best part... is getting a check for the wages that the company owes you!!!

What are the time limits for bringing a wage case in California?

This website is all about helping you get the information that you need in order for you to get your check for the unpaid wages the company owes you. 


Why are the time limits for filing a wage claim important? A look at the Starbucks case (You'll like and appreciate this Supreme Court case...) 

California has some of the most worker friendly wage laws.  The California Supreme Court gets it. They fully understand what it's like when you aren't paid the wages that you are owed. 

In the recent Troester case, the employer, Starbucks, was not paying employees for the few minutes that they worked after they clocked out for the night and while they were closing the Starbucks store.  Starbucks contended that the time was "de minimus."  Meaning, it was such a minimal (small) amount of time, that Starbucks didn't have to pay the employees for a few minutes here and a few minutes there. Here is what the California Supreme Court said about these "few" unpaid minutes of time: 

An employer that requires its employees to work minutes off the clock on a regular basis or as a regular feature of the job may not evade the obligation to compensate the employee for that time by invoking the de minimis doctrine. As the facts here demonstrate, a few extra minutes of work each day can add up. ... Troester is seeking payment for 12 hours and 50 minutes of compensable work over a 17-month period, which amounts to $ 102.67 at a wage of $ 8 per hour. That is enough to pay a utility bill, buy a week of groceries, or cover a month of bus fares. What Starbucks calls “de minimis” is not de minimis at all to many ordinary people who work for hourly wages.
Troester v. Starbucks Corp., 5 Cal. 5th 829, 847 (2018). 

For the workers in the Troester case, the unpaid wages have a three year statute of limitations and you can add a fourth year with an unfair competition claim. But the kicker is the waiting time penalty claim - that is, 30 days wages for failure to pay all wages timely at time of termination. For today's minimum wages - that would be almost $3,000 owed. The waiting time penalties have a 3 year statute of limitations.

And, with paycheck violations that would be $4,000. The paycheck stub violations have a 1 year statute of limitations.

Thus, with just these three Labor Code violations - failure to pay all wages when due, waiting time penalties and paycheck stub violations - the failure to pay $102.67 could result in over $7,000 in wages owed. 

This shows how powerful California wage laws are and why it's important to know when you can file your wage claim. 


Why is Bill Turley asked to testify concerning wage law legislation at the

California State Senate and the California Assembly?


What are the statute of limitations (the time limits) to bring a wage claim in California for unpaid wages - Bill Turley

A No B.S. straight-shooter lawyer

 Believe it or not, Bill Turley 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.

It’s all about getting your unpaid wages back (helpful hint: Follow the money)

The reason why unpaid wages statutes of limitations are important is because it’s all about getting your unpaid wages back. It’s all about the money. The company (read: you current or former employer), has your wages. Meaning, your money. 

Under California’s wage laws - you are entitled to getting paid the wages that you are owed. Your focus needs to be on getting your wages from the company. In other words, you need to follow the money. Not just any money. We’re talking about YOUR money.

In order to get your money you are going to need to bring an unpaid wages claim. Generally, unpaid wages claims are expensive. This is why class actions and collective Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA) lawsuits are usually the best way for workers to recover their unpaid wages. In these cases the costs of these expensive lawsuit are spread among all the affected employees. Thereby making the case “do-able” for the employees to bring the case and win the case.


What are the time limits to file a wage claim in California?

I don't have to tell you that having your wages stolen is a bummer.  In this article I tell you how much time you have to file a claim in order to recover your stolen wages.  Although there are time limits (the law calls "statute of limitations" you should generally not wait to start investigating and pursing your stolen wages claim.

If you are having a dispute with your employer about your pay, there are both state and federal laws that will protect your rights. You can sue your employer or company if you have not been paid for all of your hours, have been paid less than minimum wage, if you haven't been provided legally compliant meal breaks and rest breaks,  you have not been paid the correct amount of overtime, and/or you haven't been paid timely wages at time of termination. 

While these laws prevent employers from taking advantage of workers, there is only a limited amount of time (known as the statute of limitations) to recover your unpaid wages.

Getting your settlement check for unpaid wages... YES!!

Getting you settlement check - the time limits to fils a wage lawsuit in California


Time limits for bringing wage claims based upon California State law 

Depending on the specifics of your case, you are eligible to file a California wage claim within the following time frames:

3 Years (California State Law) 

For many causes of action, in regards to the time limits to bring a claim, employees in California have even more protection than that offered under U.S. law. 

Unpaid wages claims For all unpaid wages claims - you have three years in order to bring a claim. See California Code of Civil Procedure 338. 

Not getting paid all the overtime you are owed  California workers have three years from the date of a violation to file a wage claim and can collect overtime pay for work performed up to three years before the claim was filed. 

Not getting paid minimum wage  You have three years to bring a claim that you were not paid, at least, minimum wages for all of the time that you worked. 

Not getting paid for all the time that you work This can be for your "agreed upon wage" and/or for minimum wages. You have three years to bring a "failure to get paid for all time worked" claim.

Meal and rest breaks You have three years to bring a claim for not getting provided meal breaks and rest breaks. Under the California Supreme Court case - Murphy vs. Kenneth Cole Case (40 C4th 1094, 1099 (2007) - meal and rest break violations (that is, getting paid an hour's pay for not getting provided a meal or rest break) are wages. Thus, they fall under California Code of Civil Procedure 338.

Waiting time penalties Under California law you can get up to 30 days wages when your employer doesn't pay you all of the wages you are owed in a timely manner at time of termination. This is really important, so don't overlook this.   (For more information on waiting time penalties click here)Waiting time penalties have a three year statute of limitations.

Not getting reimbursed for all business expenses.  Under California law you are entitled to get reimbursed for all of you business expenses. For example, if you have to use your personal cell phone for work, use your personal computer for work or use your car for work.  These are called "2802 claims." Based upon California Labor Code Section 2802. Unreimbursed business expenses claims have a three year statute of limitations in California. 

4 Years (California State Law)

California extends the statute of limitations up to four years if workers file wage and hour lawsuits in court. This is based upon what are called 17200 claims or unfair competition law claims.

Here is a list of California unpaid wages claims that you can extend to 4 years based upon an unfair competition claim:

- Unpaid wages claim

- Overtime claims 

- Not getting paid for all time worked claims

- Minimum wage claims

- Meal break and rest period claims

- Not getting paid for all business expenses claims 


If you have a wage claim and you worked over three years ago and less than 4 years ago, I suggest that you contact a seasoned California unpaid wages lawyer immediately. 

1 Year (California State Law)

Private Attorney General Act (Called "PAGA" claims) have a one year statute of limitations. This can be a little tricky because you also have to file a PAGA Notice with the State of California LWDA and also serve a copy on the employer. You have to wait 65 days from the date that you file the PAGA notice with the State before you file a PAGA lawsuit.

Failure to provide itemized wage statements have a one year statute of limitations. 

What are the time limits for bringing wage claims under Federal law?

2 Years (Federal Law) 

A federal law called the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) allows workers to file claims against employers up to two years from the date that the wage violation occurred. If you are still working for the employer, the FLSA allows you to recover unpaid wages for the two years prior to filing your claim. These claims are filed through the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) Wage and Hour Division, and if successful, can prevent an employee from having to go to court. If the claim cannot be resolved through the DOL, you can file a lawsuit to seek compensation.

3 Years(Federal Law)

The DOL will extend the statute of limitations for wage claims for an additional year if your employer willfully violated the terms of the FLSA. Willful violations are cases where an employer intended to deprive an employee of fair wages, had a history of wage theft, or knowingly disregarded the protections of the FLSA.

What makes this all worthwhile - when employees receive their checks for unpaid wages! Clients that are happy they got their check in a California Wage Case It feels really good when you get your check for unpaid wages owed to you!
Clients that are happy they got their check in a California Wage Case



Your next step

If you suspect (or know) that you haven't been paid all of the wages that you are owed, you need to immediately contact a seasoned California wage lawyer about your unpaid wages. I word of caution here though. I suggest that you don't call someone because they have a pretty webpage. Anybody can slap up a webpage on the Internet and pose as a wage and hour lawyer. 

What am I talking about? 

Here is a quick story on a recent case we had. We filed a case against a decent sized California manufacturing company. Soon after we filed the case, another lawyer (that is all over the Internet and has a very fancy and impressive website that claims he is an "experienced California wage and hour lawyer) put together a quick settlement with the company's lawyer.  The lawyer then filed a Motion for Preliminary Approval of a Class Action Settlement for $500,000. 

Our client objected to the Settlement as not being adequate and very unfair to the workers. The Judge in the case agreed with us. So we did a lot more investigation and discovery and based upon our investigation it was clear that the workers were owed a lot more money.  We recently went to a new mediation and settled the case for $4,500,000. Or 9 times more than the other lawyer had tried to settle the case for. 

The lesson here - don't believe everything you read on the Internet. Instead, you need to make sure that the California unpaid wages lawyer that you hire really is one of the best wage class action lawyers in California. Not all lawyers are alike. The last thing you need is a lawyer that is going to try and settle your case cheap. 

This in not to suggest that every case has this value. Every case is different and there are not guarantees in life or law. Just because we have gotten great results in so many previous cases, is no guarantee of any particular result in your case or any other case. 

Statute of limitations is an affirmative defense

One of the hurdles of every wage claim causes of action is that you are going to have to prove that your wage claim is within the applicable wage claim statute of limitations.

Now, if you are the savvy student, you are going to say, “Now wait a minute Bill, isn’t a “statute of limitations” an affirmative defense that the employer must plead and prove?

The short answer is, “Yes.”  The better answer is that you need to think of the statute of limitations as being one of the things that you are going to need to prove in order to prevail in your wage claim.

Because, a statute of limitations defense is going to be raised in every Answer to your wage Complaint. Depend on it. Like, “the sun rises in the east and sets in the west.”  Every employer is going to raise the statute of limitations defense. And, count on this, if the employer’s lawyer doesn’t raise it, most likely the Judge is going to look at you sideways if your wage claims aren’t within the applicable limitations period for the wage claim causes of action you are bringing.


An Unpaid Wages Attorney Can Help You Determine How Much You Are Owed

It is always best to speak to an honest wage and hour attorney before pursuing a claim against your employer. Not only can an attorney calculate your losses (including interest and other wage violation penalties), he or she can also give you a legal perspective on your case and advise you on what to do next.

Call us at 619-304-1000  - If you call after regular business hours, when you leave a message, be sure to repeat your name and telephone number twice, so we get it correctly. And be sure to indicate whether it's okay if we respond by text.


Text us at 858-281-8008 - Be sure and put "new wage case" in your text. 


 Or leave us a message on this web page



This article is not legal advice. 


Disclaimer: Please understand these discussions and/or examples are not legal advice. All legal situations are different. This testimonial, endorsement, photographs,  and/or discussion does not constitute a guarantee, warranty, or prediction regarding the outcome of your legal matter, your particular case/ situation and/or this particular case/ situation. 

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.”