Employees file wage claims with the Labor Commissioner (also commonly called the Labor Board) when they believe their employer has not paid them all wages owed. This can include, overtime, meal breaks, unpaid commissions, or reimbursements. The employee, if he or she no longer works for the employer, will likely also seek penalties.
Once an employee files a wage claim, the Labor Commissioner will send a notice to the affected employer that identifies the name of the employee and the claims made. The notice will likely include a date for a “conference” to take place between the employee, employer, and usually a Deputy Labor Commissioner.
If the case does not resolve at the Labor Commissioner conference and the Deputy Labor Commissioner believes that there are some possible claims being made by the employee, the Deputy will likely prepare a formal “Complaint” for the employee to sign. The Complaint will include all of the employee’s wage claims against the employer — better said, it will include those claims that will be adjudicated from that point forward.
The employer then usually files an “Answer” to the Complaint. The Answer sets forth the employer’s position and includes affirmative defenses (examples include: the “employee” was really an independent contractor or was exempt from the payment of overtime).
Typically, once the employee files its Answer (but sometimes in conjunction with service of the Complaint on the employer) the Deputy Labor Commissioner will set a date for a hearing. The Hearing is an administrative proceeding that is like a bench trial. That is, there is one “judge” or “administrative law judge” (ALJ) that presides over the hearing and acts as judge and jury. The ALJ can be the senior Labor Commissioner in the office where the wage claim is filed.
At the Hearing, each side will present its case to the ALJ. Parties may call witnesses to testify on their behalf. Parties can cross-examine witnesses, including the employee-claimant and any other employees of the employer.
In short, the Hearing is a mini-trial, except that there is no jury. The ALJ will hear the evidence and make a ruling — sometimes he or she will issue the ruling/decision quickly (i.e., in a week or so) and sometimes longer.
Do I Need an Attorney?
Many employers are represented by an attorney in the wage claim process. Attorneys can help negotiate on behalf of the employer. Experienced wage claim attorneys also represent the employer at the Conference and Hearing. Because many, if not most, employees represent themselves in wage claims, an employer may find great benefit in hiring an attorney to defend it.