You don’t have to hire a lawyer to help you negotiate with your employer about unpaid wages or overtime, file a wage claim, or even file a lawsuit in California or federal court. At some point in the legal process, however, most people will want to at least consult with a lawyer. And, for many, it will make sense to hire a lawyer early on.
There are many ways an employment lawyer can help you with your legal claims for unpaid wages or overtime. A lawyer can help you by:
- Figuring out whether your employer is breaking the law (that is, whether you have a claim in the first place).
- Determining how much your employer owes you, including unpaid wages or overtime, other out-of-pocket expenses, and penalties.
- Negotiating with your employer to pay you what you are owed, so you don’t have to go through the legal process.
- Protecting your rights if you are asserting your claims while still on the job (by, for example, stepping in quickly if you face workplace retaliation).
- Contacting and interviewing other employees who may have similar claims. If there are enough of you, it might make sense to file a class action lawsuit.
- Filing a wage claim on your behalf with your state labor department (if it has a process for doing so).
- Presenting evidence and arguing your wage claim to the administrative judge.
- Helping you decide whether it makes sense to file a lawsuit against your employer (and, if so, whether you should file in federal or California court).
- Making sure you meet all of the filing requirements and deadlines for suing your employer.
- Gathering evidence, questioning witnesses, and presenting the presenting the strongest arguments in court to give you the best chance of winning your lawsuit.
Like many other professionals, lawyers specialize. Most employment lawyers handle wage and hour cases (the legal term for lawsuits over minimum wage, tips, overtime, breaks, and other claims for unpaid wages). An experienced wage and hour lawyer should be familiar with your state’s wage claim process (if it has one); federal, state, and local wage and hour laws; and how the state and federal courts in your area interpret those laws.
If you’re not being paid for all of your work hours, you may be wondering whether you can afford to hire a lawyer to negotiate with or sue your employer. In wage and hour cases, however, lawyers are often willing to work on a contingency fee basis. This means the lawyer gets paid for his or her time only if you win the case (typically, the lawyer takes a percentage of the total amount you win). And, the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and many state laws require an employer who loses a wage and hour case to pay the winning employee’s attorney fees and court costs.
For information on finding a lawyer, see How Can I Find a Wage and Hour Lawyer in California?