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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 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 tad 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?

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.


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. 

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

California's leading wage lawyer

I'm not saying this to brag. I'm telling you this so you will know that I know what I'm talking about.  I represented the workers in the leading California Supreme Court case on California unpaid wages law - Brinker vs. Superior Court. I wrote the winning briefs in the recent California Supreme Court cases - Augustus vs. Superior Court (the leading case on rest breaks) and Williams vs. Superior Court (the case that gives you the right to getting the names of your co-employees in a PAGA case). 

I am regularly asked to testify before the California State Senate and the California State Assembly on unpaid wages law. I helped write the recent changes to California's unpaid wages PAGA laws. 

Time limits for bringing unpaid wage claims in California - Statutue of limitations for wage claims - Bill Turley testfying

Bill Turley is regularly asked to testify before the California legislature as an expert on California wage law. 

How long do I have to bring a wage claim under California law? - Bill Turley testyfing before the California Assembly

Bill Turley testifying before them California State Assembly on California wage laws. 


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 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. 


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Disclaimer: Please understand these discussions and/or examples are not legal advice. All legal situations are different. This testimonial, endorsement 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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