class action employment lawsuit attorney

How Do California Class Action Employment Lawsuits Work?

When a California employee finds out that their employer wronged them, chances are they are not alone. If an employer engages in the same illegal employment practices affecting dozens of employees or more, it may be suitable for a class action. An employment class action lawsuit is a good way for a small number of employees, or even one person, to get justice for every employee who was harmed. The person(s) bringing the class action can even be a former employee, so if you are aware of a widespread problem at your current employer but do not want to take legal action, you could find another current or former employee willing to step forward as a class representative. However, if no one steps up, then it is likely the employer will continue to get away with cheating employees out of wages.

Most people have heard about class action lawsuits, probably on television commercials discussing the dangers of unsafe products, asbestos, or pharmaceuticals. Or you may have received a coupon or small settlement check in the mail related to a purchase you made long ago. However, through an unpaid wages class action, you can obtain substantial compensation for losses from wage theft by an employer, such as:

  • Systematically shorting employees’ wages.
  • Failure to pay overtime wages (over 8 hours per day, 40 hours per week, or the first 8 hours of the 7th consecutive day worked in a workweek).
  • Failure to pay double-time wages (over 12 hours per day or over 8 hours on the 7th consecutive day worked in a workweek).
  • Misclassification of employees as independent contractors.
  • Misclassification of hourly (eligible for overtime) employees as exempt (not eligible for overtime).
  • Misclassification of inside salespersons as exempt.
  • Misclassification of tech support or certain other IT professionals as exempt.
  • Forcing employees to work off-the-clock, such as requiring them to show up early or be on-call without pay.
  • Failure to provide 10-minute rest breaks every four hours worked.
  • Failure to provide uninterrupted meal breaks every five hours worked; or improper waiver of meal breaks.
  • Failure to properly factor sales commissions into overtime pay.
  • Failure to pay necessary business expenses such as auto mileage.
  • Any other violation of California or federal wage laws.

In a class action, one or more employees bring the lawsuit on behalf of a much larger group of affected employees. Any settlement or jury award that is obtained will be divided among all members of the class, typically in proportion to individual damages. The employee(s) who step up and serve as class representatives are typically given extra damages awards by the Court. Class action lawsuits offer many benefits, including:

  • Allowing recovery for employees with smaller dollar-amount claims;
  • Allowing one or more current or former employees to represent all the affected employees
  • More efficient litigation; and
  • Increased bargaining power.

In this way, class actions are very well-suited for wage and hour lawsuits because they allow employees to change their workplace positively.  

Bringing a class action lawsuit

In a class action, a few employees file a claim on behalf of a larger group of employees– the “class representatives.” However, not all employment cases can be brought as a class action. A class must first be certified by the court before a class action lawsuit can be filed. A court will certify a class of plaintiffs if they can meet certain criteria, including:

  • All the employees in the class must have suffered similar harm;
  • There must be enough employees to make hearing each case individually impractical (usually a few dozen at least); and
  • The class representatives must adequately represent the interests of all other employees.  

Class action lawsuits are often very high-stakes, and employers take them very seriously. As a result, these cases can be exceptionally complex and should be handled by an experienced California employment attorney. To learn more, visit

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