What Does the California Labor Board Do?

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You may often hear people talk about filing a claim with the California Labor Board, but if you look for an agency by that name, you'll come up with nothing, since "California Labor Board" is actually the colloquial name for the state's Division of Labor Standards Enforcement, or DLSE. It is an administrative agency charged with protecting the 18 million wage earners in the state by overseeing compliance with California's labor laws.

What Is the Labor Board?

California law includes many provisions intended to protect workers and keep them safe. The Division of Labor Standards Enforcement is the agency that enforces these laws. The DLSE includes a variety of offices and divisions that assist workers, including the Labor Commissioner’s Office, Cal/OSHA, Workers’ Compensation and the Apprenticeship Standards divisions.

When people speak of filing a claim with the California Labor Board, they may mean several things. Most likely, they are talking about filing a wage claim with the Labor Commissioner's Office or filing a work safety complaint with the Cal/OSHA district office.

Read More: How to Collect on a California Labor Board Judgment

Wage Claims With the California Labor Board

Under California's labor laws, employees and other workers in the state can enforce their right to wages owed by filing a claim with the DLSE. A worker can file the claim with the Labor Commissioner's Office by email, mail or in person. The state's labor laws protect all workers from wage theft regardless of immigration status.

Filing a wage claim is the first step in the administrative process to collect any unpaid wages or benefits. It triggers an investigation by the California Labor Commissioner's Office into the matter. Sometimes claims for wages and benefits are resolved administratively in a settlement conference between employer and employee under the auspices of the commissioner's office. If not, a DLSE hearing officer holds a hearing, reviews the evidence and issues a decision on the claim.

What Is the Timing for Filing a Wage Complaint?

You must file a wage complaint within one of several different limitations periods:

  • One year for a bounced check.
  • Two years for an oral promise to pay wages over the minimum wage.
  • Three years for violations of state laws like minimum wage, overtime, sick leave, and unpaid rest and meal breaks.
  • Four years for the breach of a written contract.

These are deadlines, so an individual filing a wage complaint doesn't have to wait out the full period. It is usually preferable to file sooner rather than later.

Independent Contractor Claims for Wages

Someone truly working as an independent contractor – setting their own hours with their work not controlled by the employer – cannot file a claim for wages. But many workers are misclassified as independent contractors by their employers. In such a case, the worker can file a wage claim to have his or her work status reviewed. If found to be an employee, rather than a contractor, the wage claim will be reviewed.

California Labor Board Work Safety Complaint

The DLSE also houses the Cal/OSHA district office. It is responsible for both complaints about unsafe work conditions and work accident reports. The Cal/OSHA Enforcement Branch investigates unsafe work condition complaints and can issue citations and orders to take special action to an employer at the conclusion of an investigation. It is also charged with issuing permits to employers for major construction activities and permits for using diesel engines in mining and tunneling.

Under the California Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1973, workers can file complaints about safety issues and health hazards in the workplace confidentially. Complaints can be phoned into the Cal/OSHA district office that serves a job site or they can be emailed to the office. Workers reporting a hazard should identify themselves, their work site, and provide a detailed description of the hazard.

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