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How to Collect Your Owed Wages

What can I do to help ensure I'll be able to collect my unpaid wages?

Recovering your unpaid wages starts BEFORE you file a wage claim.

When you file a wage claim with the Labor Commissioner's Office, you want to name all people and companies you think are responsible violating the labor code.  You may ONLY collect from the exact person or company named on the judgment. You CANNOT collect from any person or company with assets unless they are found liable and named on the judgment. For example, defendants who you may want to name on your claim  could include a manager, supervisor, owner, director, officer, or managing agent of the employer. You may be able to locate some of this information on your paycheck, by consulting with coworkers, or by visiting the Secretary of State website to look up information about your employer.

What are  the steps involved in collecting unpaid wages if my employer refuses to pay?

The steps in your Wage Claim and Judgment Enforcement Process are outlined here.

Once I file my wage claim what are some legal tools I can use to make sure I can collect my owed wages?

If the Labor Commissioner decides a wage claim in your favor, you will receive an Order, Decision or Award (ODA) that states the amount that your employer owes you.

You will also receive an ODA if you agreed to settle your claim, but your employer violated the settlement agreement.

What happens now that I have my wage claim Award?

  • The law requires your employer to pay or appeal the decision within 10 days.
  • If your employer does not appeal and fails to pay, the Labor Commissioner mails the ODA to the local Superior Court and it becomes a legal judgment.

What is a judgment?

  • Unpaid Labor Commissioner Order Decision Awards  will result  court issued judgments. These judgments are court orders to pay wages and other monies owed. Once the Labor Commissioner Order Decision Award  is converted into a judgment, it is the same as any other civil judgment and can be enforced using the same mechanisms.

How do I collect the money I'm owed from a judgment?

  • Once you have a judgment you can collect that amount from your employer using the Legal Tools described here. You have the right to recover from your employer any fees and costs necessary to collect your judgment.
  • Judgments are valid for 10 years from the date the judgment is issued by the court. Judgments can be renewed before the 10 years pass. Judgments can be renewed after 5 years from the date the judgment is issued, but before 10 years pass. Collection can only occur before a judgment expires, so collection should occur during those 10 years, unless the judgment is renewed. 

Will I need help or can I do it myself?

  • You may need to file papers and visit offices without translation services. You may want to ask someone who reads and writes in English to assist you with this process.
  • If you want additional help you may consult a non-profit Legal Services Provider in your area.
  • You may also hire a lawyer or collection agency to help you collect your judgment. Find a reputable attorney who has experience with debtor-creditor law or commercial debt collection (sometimes they will call themselves creditor's rights attorneys).

The Labor Commissioner assistance in enforcing your judgment:

  • The Labor Commissioner helps some workers collect their awards. If this option is available to you, you will receive a form known as the “Assignment of Judgment” to sign in person at any of the Labor Commissioner's offices or to have notarized. If you agree to assign your judgment to the Labor Commissioner, you can no longer try to collect the judgment on your own. If the Labor Commissioner cannot assist you to collect your judgment amount, the Labor Commissioner will send a letter   explaining the different steps you can take to collect.

Who can I collect from?

  • You may only collect your award from the exact individual person or entity named in the judgment. Owners of companies often form a separate legal entity to protect themselves from being personally responsible for the company's debts.
  • If your judgment names a company that is one of these entities, “Inc.,” “LLC,” or “LLP” may appear after the company name. If the judgment is against a legal entity and not an individual, you can only use the judgment to collect from the company's property only, not from its owners.
  • If an individual's name appears on your judgment, you may collect from that individual and the company named on the judgment, if any.