Though Your Union
If you are covered by a collective bargaining agreement, or a union contract, you can file a grievance with your union regarding violations of the law as well as violations of the contract. Filing a grievance through your union is usually preferable to filing a lawsuit through the court, as it saves time and money.
There are special rules for wage and hour claims brought to the California labor commissioner by workers who are under a union contract. For example, while the California labor commissioner enforces claims regarding state law violations as well as claims of loss of pay due to unsafe working conditions, the labor commissioner generally avoids claims involving the interpretation of the collective bargaining agreement. However, if the collective bargaining agreement does not have a binding arbitration procedure regarding wage claims, the labor commissioner can enforce the claim. Additionally, the labor commissioner can enforce wage claims for workers who are bound by an arbitration contract if the worker was employed by a private contractor on the construction of “public works.”
The time limit to file a grievance under a union contract is usually short. Check your union’s collective bargaining agreement to find out what your time limit is.
Through the State Labor Commissioner
If you are not covered by a collective bargaining agreement, you can take your claim to the California Labor Commission. The Commission enforces California labor laws, investigates employee complaints, and initiates hearings on wage and hour violations.
The violations heard include: failure to pay wages or overtime, failure to provide meal and rest breaks, unauthorized paycheck deductions, worker retaliation, and misrepresentation of the conditions of employment.
The labor commissioner will generally not hear claims if a) your job is covered by a collective bargaining agreement that contains a binding arbitration clause, or b) you are a public employee, since most laws and regulations that the labor commissioner enforce do not apply to public employees.
Through An Enforcement Agency
Workers can bring complaints to government enforcement agencies such as the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) and the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division. The DFEH handles complaints covered by California’s anti-discrimination laws and requires all parties to participate in a dispute resolution process before bringing civil claims to court. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division deals with complaints such as failure to pay overtime.
The time limit to file a claim with agencies vary from a month to a year, so it is important to act fast to preserve your rights.