A number of new laws that affect California employees take effect on Jan. 1, 2022. Typically, the new batch of employment-related laws that take effect each year in California increase the rights of employees and help protect them from discrimination, abuse, wrongful termination and wage theft.
Last month, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill (AB) 1003 into law. The new law stiffens the penalties for employers who intentionally withhold wages from their workers. In fact, employers can be criminally charged with grand theft under the new law if the amount is large enough.
The new law defines wage theft as the “intentional deprivation of wages…gratuities…benefits or other compensation, by unlawful means, with the knowledge that [this] compensation is due to the employee under the law.” Under the new law, the term “employee” includes independent contractors.
An employer who engages in intentional wage theft from one employee of over $950 or from two or more employees of over $2,350 total over a consecutive 12-month period can be charged with grand theft in criminal court. Although employers can be ordered to pay restitution to those employees, they or the state labor commissioner can still choose to sue the employer in civil court.
Proving that an employer engaged in wage theft often isn’t always simple. If an employee catches an error or realizes that their employer isn’t complying with the law, that employer can easily say they made a mistake in calculation or didn’t know the law.
However, if an employer has a pattern of not paying their employees what they’re due under state minimum wage, overtime and other laws, this is often an indication of wage theft, and a class action lawsuit may be warranted. If you believe that you’re the victim of wage theft, it may be wise to seek legal guidance.