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How California's New Wage Theft Law Helps Employees

California has taken a tough stance on wage theft for a number of years, but when SB. 588 (known as the "California Fair Day's Pay Act) went into effect earlier this year, it became easier for victims of wage theft to recover unpaid wages.

An employer is guilty of wage theft if they don't pay workers for all of their work. This may include not paying overtime wages, paying less than the minimum wage, requiring employees to work "off the clock" or violating requirements for breaks during working hours.

Prior to this new law taking effect, when an employer was found guilty of wage theft, it was more difficult for employees to recover their wages because employers would engage in a number of tactics to avoid paying, such as changing their business structure or transferring assets.

Under the new law, the California Labor Commissioner is empowered to take any of the same actions a judgment creditor could take. Essentially, this means that the state can put a lien against the businesses' property and bank accounts. Employees are also empowered under the law now to bring actions for wage theft against both the employer and against anyone who acted on behalf of the employer, so the owners, directors and managers of the employer can be held personally liable.

This potential for personal liability is intended to make business owners think twice about trying to get out of paying the unpaid wages to employees. If an employer does try to start a new business to avoid its obligation to previous employees under the law, SB. 588 treats the new business as the same employer, so the new businesses' assets are subject to liens.

The law also comes with monetary penalties for employers who commit wage theft, in addition to paying employees' unpaid wages and attorneys' fees.

If you believe your current or former employer may be guilty of wage theft, it is important to consult with an employment attorney as soon as possible. A knowledgeable, experienced lawyer can help evaluate your case and can help advocate for what is rightfully yours.

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