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California employees have the ability to file claims with the California Labor Commissioner when they believe their employer has violated certain California Labor Code sections. Typically, such claims involve issues such as an employer’s alleged failure to pay legally required wages, meal and rest break requirements, and reimbursement of employment related expense matters.
An employment relationship needs to exist for the Labor Commissioner to have jurisdiction of the claim. Independent contractor claims and/or other purely contractual relationship claims not based in an employment context, are not claims which typically can be adjudicated by the Labor Commissioner. However, employees who claim to have been misclassified as an independent contractor can file a claim with the Labor Commissioner.
The process usually begins when an employee contacts the Labor Commissioner to make a claim against a current and/or former employer. Labor Commissioner staff often assist employees in filling out paperwork, organizing alleged legal theories, and calculating potential monetary remedies.
After the employee provides claim information to the Labor Commissioner staff, a written claim is normally then generated which includes the alleged employer violations and potential remedies. The claim is mailed to the alleged employer(s) along with a notice inviting the parties to a conference at the Labor Commissioner’s office. This notice is called a Notice of Claim And Conference.
The conference provides the parties with an opportunity to try and resolve the alleged issues. Usually, a Deputy Labor Commissioner presides over the semi-formal conference proceeding. The Deputy has the ability to help facilitate a settlement, prepare the claim to be scheduled for a formal hearing if no settlement can be reached, or dismiss the claim if it lacks a critical element such as there is clearly no employment relationship between the parties. While usually the employee must attend the conference or risk the possibility of the claim being dismissed, the employer is not required to attend the conference. However, by not attending the conference, the employer is unable to argue for a potential dismissal, is unable to settle the matter in person with the assistance of the Labor Commissioner, and loses an opportunity to often obtain a better understanding of the employee’s claims and the evidence that may be presented by the employee. Sometimes, the parties are allowed to participate at the conference via telephone instead of personally appearing.
If the claim is not settled nor dismissed at the conference, then the Labor Commissioner typically organizes the issues to be decided at a formal hearing in the form of a Complaint document. The Labor Commissioner may add or remove claims based on information the Deputy obtained at the conference. The Complaint is signed by the employee and mailed to all of the parties with formal notice of a scheduled hearing.
The hearing affords both sides the opportunity to present their case in the form of argument, witness testimony, and documentary evidence. At the conclusion of the hearing, which can last anywhere from a few hours to multiple days, the hearing officer usually then renders a written decision several weeks or months later.
The hearing decision can be appealed to the Superior Court by any of the parties for what is called a “de novo” or “new” proceeding. Essentially, if the decision is appealed, the entire Labor Commissioner process is rendered meaningless, and the parties participate in a brand new Court proceeding. Employers who appeal a hearing decision typically have to post a bond while employees are not required to post such a bond. Employees who receive a hearing decision in their favor also have the potential option of converting the decision into a Superior Court judgment, which can then be enforced via Court collection procedures.