Filing a California Labor Board Complaint (2024 Guide)

California labor board complaint

California is known for having some of the most extensive labor protections in the country. However, it can be challenging for employees to understand how to exercise their legal rights when dealing with workplace mistreatment. 

This blog post will explain how to file a California labor board complaint when facing common employment issues. 

Who Handles Labor Complaints in California?

Several state agencies share the responsibility of enforcing California employment law. Which agency you file a complaint with depends on the type of wrongdoing you’ve experienced. 

Each agency’s complaint review process follows roughly the same steps. After an employee files their complaint, the agency examines the details of the case and the evidence showing an employer’s bad actions. Then, the agency decides whether to investigate the complaint.

They can take action if they agree that your employer violated the law. Employers who’ve been ignoring California labor law can face fines and citations. An agency could also order them to pay you compensation for lost wages or benefits and violating your rights.

Here are the two state agencies that essentially handle employee complaints in California.

The Labor Commissioner’s Office

The Labor Commissioner is a state labor board in charge of enforcing California’s labor code. It’s also called the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE). This agency office mainly deals with wage- and hour-related disputes, like employers who withhold overtime pay or full lunch breaks from workers. It also handles some whistleblower retaliation claims.

Employees can reach the Labor Commissioner’s Office online or by phone at 833-LCO-INFO (833-526-4636).

The Civil Rights Department

California’s Civil Rights Department (CRD) is another agency that enforces employee anti-discrimination protections. The CRD handles complaints of workplace harassment and discrimination that violate the state Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA).

Employees who face employer backlash after reporting targeted mistreatment can also file retaliation complaints with the CRD. To reach the Civil Rights Department California labor board phone number, employees can dial 800-884-1684

How to File a Complaint for Labor Law Violations in California

California’s labor laws provide a set of standards employers must follow when managing their businesses and employees. State labor law includes regulations promoting fair compensation and safe working conditions. Some common labor law violations in California include:

  • Misclassifying employees as independent contractors,
  • Denying legally mandated paid sick leave,
  • Taking unlawful deductions from employee wages,
  • Failing to provide worker’s compensation insurance,
  • Withholding overtime payments,
  • Keeping inaccurate records of employee work hours, and 
  • Refusing to provide required meal or rest breaks.

Employees can report a violation of California labor law to the Labor Commissioner’s Office online, in person, or by mail. If the Labor Commissioner finds evidence of misconduct, they can hit your employer with official fines and citations.

Be aware: employees who want to file a complaint about labor law violations must do so before the statute of limitations passes. Here are the deadlines for employees to complain about wrongdoing to the California Labor Commissioner’s Office:

  • Reporting violations of oral employment agreements—two years from the incident;
  • Reporting violations that create a liability (e.g., breaches of minimum wage or overtime regulations)—three years from the incident; and
  • Reporting breaches of written employment agreements—four years from the incident.

Two or three years to file a complaint might seem like plenty of time. However, be careful not to wait too long to take action. Once the deadline passes, you lose your right to hold your employer accountable for their actions or inactions.

How to File a Wage Claim in California

Wage theft may occur if your employer violates labor law by withholding your legally entitled pay or benefits. When this happens, you can file a wage theft complaint with the Labor Commissioner’s Office. A wage claim allows employees to recover wages or compensation for missing benefits.

Employees can file a wage claim online by downloading the appropriate form and emailing it to the Labor Commissioner. You can also print the form and mail it to a local Labor Commissioner’s Office branch. 

When you file a wage claim, it’s important to have evidence showing that your employer denied you legal compensation. Evidence of wage theft could include pay stubs, W-2s, timesheets, and work schedules. Written communications between you and your employer about pay or hours can also be helpful for your case. 

The deadlines for filing a wage claim are similar to those for reporting labor law violations. Here is how long employees have to take action for different cases of unpaid wages and benefits:

  • Claims for bounced checks, failing to provide access to payroll or personnel records—one year from the incident;
  • Claims regarding an oral promise to pay more than minimum wage—two years from the incident;
  • Claims about violations of minimum wage, overtime, unpaid rest and meal breaks, and unpaid business reimbursements—three years from the incident; and
  • Claims regarding a written contract to pay more than minimum wage—four years from the incident.

If the Labor Commissioner determines you’re owed compensation, they can set up a settlement conference between you and your employer. Here, you’ll have a chance to try to resolve the dispute and negotiate an adequate amount of payment.

If you and your employer can’t agree, then the Labor Commissioner can hold a wage claim hearing to review evidence and testimony from each side. The board’s decision after the hearing will determine how much compensation you can recover.

How to File a Complaint About Discrimination or Harassment

It’s illegal under California law to harass or discriminate against employees based on protected identity traits, including race, religion, sexual orientation, and pregnancy status. If you experience targeted mistreatment because of a characteristic protected by California law, you can file a complaint with the California Civil Rights Department. 

The CRD can investigate your complaint and the evidence of harassment or discriminatory conduct you offer. If they agree that a violation of your rights has occurred, the CRD can file a charge against your employer to hold them accountable for their wrongdoing. You can also try to negotiate a settlement with your employer to recover compensation for the damages you suffered. 

It’s important to note that California’s discrimination protections only apply to employers with five or more employees. Employees also have a three-year deadline to file a complaint with the CRD about discrimination or harassment.

How to File a Complaint for Retaliation

California law protects employees exercising their legal rights and duties from retaliation. Employers who punish their workers for reporting unsafe working conditions, discrimination, wage theft, or other workplace misconduct are breaking the law twice. 

If you faced retaliation from your employer after filing a labor law or wage theft complaint, you can report it to the Labor Commissioner’s Office. Generally, employees have just a year after the act of retaliation to file a report.

If you faced retaliation for complaining about a hazardous working environment or safety violations, there are alternative ways you can report your complaint to the Labor Commission.

If you face retaliation for complaining about workplace harassment or discrimination, you can report it to the Civil Rights Department. Again, if the CRD decides to investigate the complaint, employees can have a chance to receive compensation from their employer through a settlement agreement.

Qualified Legal Support for Your California Labor Board Complaint

Employees don’t need an attorney to file complaints with any California labor board. However, it’s often wise to consult a legal professional if you’re considering reporting an employer’s wrongdoing. For one, an attorney is the best resource to answer your questions about your rights and options for legal recourse.

Additionally, employees seeking to hold their employer accountable sometimes prefer to file a lawsuit instead of an administrative complaint. The support of a trained employment attorney is essential for anyone looking to build a successful case against an employer in civil court. 

At Starpoint Law, our attorneys understand how challenging it can be to understand your legal rights as an employee, let alone to have the confidence to stand up to your employer. That’s why we’ve made it our mission to bring employees across California the committed and empathetic legal support that helps level the playing field in an employment dispute.

Our lawyers have extensive experience guiding California employees to financial recovery in a variety of labor disputes, from wage theft to pregnancy discrimination to whistleblower retaliation. Contact our office today for a free consultation to learn how we can help you with your case. 

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Author Photo

Aidin Ghavimi

Aidin is a partner at Starpoint LC, Attorneys at Law, and focuses on personal injury and employment law cases in and around Southern California. He earned his Juris Doctorate from the Loyola School of Law and his Bachelor’s from USC. Aidin’s primary goal is to bring justice to his clients and to ensure they are able to move on with their lives after a serious injury.

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