A California labor board complaint is where you complain to a state agency that hears and investigates employment disputes about improper actions by your employer. While technically there is not one California agency specifically named “labor board,” there are several state agencies that handle employment grievances.
Here are five key things to know about filing a California Labor Board complaint:
- The Labor Commissioner’s Office is a state labor board which hears wage and hour disputes.
- The Civil Rights Department (CDR) is a state labor board which handles discrimination and harassment complaints.
- Examples of wage and hour violations are failing to pay minimum wage or overtime or not providing meal breaks or rest periods.
- Most discrimination and harassment complaints involve being treated unfairly because of your race, gender, religion, or age.
- If your employer retaliates against you for bringing a complaint, you can file a retaliation complaint or a civil lawsuit.
Here at Shouse Law Group, we have helped countless victims of wage and hour violations and workplace harassment/discrimination to recover substantial financial settlements. In this article, our California labor and employment attorneys answer frequently-asked-questions about filing labor board complaints:
- 1. What can be reported to the labor board?
- 2. What are the most common employment complaints in California?
- 3. What does the California Labor Commission do?
- 4. Are harassment and discrimination complaints limited to the CRD?
- 5. What are retaliation complaints?
- 6. How do I contact the labor board in California?
- 7. How do I file a complaint with the California Labor Board?
1. What can be reported to the labor board?
California has two primary state “labor boards” that hear and investigate employment grievances. These are:
- the Labor Commissioner’s Office (Division of Labor Standards Enforcement -DLSE), and
- the Civil Rights Department (CRD), formerly the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH).
1.1. Labor Commissioner’s Office
The Labor Commissioner’s Office mostly handles disputes concerning:
- unpaid wages and wage claims,
- meal breaks and rest breaks, and
- similar complaints related to your earnings.
1.2. Civil Rights Department (CRD)
The CRD handles complaints mostly regarding:
- employment discrimination, and
- employee harassment.1
2. What are the most common employment complaints in California?
The two most common employment complaints that get filed with California’s labor boards are:
- wage and hour complaints, and
- discrimination and harassment complaints.
2.1. Wage and hour complaints
As mentioned above, wage and hour complaints under the labor code are filed with the California Labor Commission.
Depending on whether you are “non-exempt” or not, common wage/hour violations under California law involve your employer:
- failing to pay the minimum wage;
- failing to pay “time and a half” overtime that you earned;
- failing to pay “double time” overtime that you earned;
- failing to issue you a timely final paycheck upon termination;
- refusing to provide you meal breaks;
- refusing to provide you rest periods;
- refusing to reimburse business expenses;
- refusing to reimburse mileage for driving from the office to a job site;
- failing to pay you your entire tips or tip pool portions;
- taking out deductions when you did not agree to it in writing;
- misclassifying you as exempt from wage/hour requirements; and
- misclassifying you as independent contractors.
2.2. Discrimination and harassment complaints
The California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) prohibits both:
- employment discrimination, and
2.2.1. Discrimination claims
As to discrimination, the FEHA makes it unlawful for any employer of five or more employees to discriminate on the basis of:
- medical conditions,
- genetic information,
- marital status,
- sexual orientation, and
- veteran status.3
Ways employers discriminate
Discrimination can take place in a variety of ways. Often, though, it involves your employer treating you differently as to:
- pay and earnings,
- working conditions,
- job duties,
- promotions and advancements, and
- the terms of your employment.
2.2.2. Harassment claims
The FEHA prohibits both:
Non-sexual harassment is when:
- your employer creates, or allows, a hostile work environment, and
- it is one in which you are harassed on the basis of any of the above categories involving discrimination.5
Unlawful harassment can also be based on your immigration status, national origin, or ancestry.6
Sexual harassment comes in two forms under California State law. These are:
- “quid pro quo” harassment, and
- “hostile work environment” harassment.7
126.96.36.199. Quid pro quo & hostile work environment harassment
“Quid pro quo” harassment is when supervisors demand sexual favors for a workplace benefit.8
A “hostile work environment” can also constitute sexual harassment. You can bring this type of claim if:
- you are the recipient of unwelcome advances, conduct or comments,
- the harassment is in some sense based on your sex, and
- the harassment is either severe or pervasive enough to alter the conditions of employment.9
3. What does the California Labor Commission do?
The Labor Commissioner’s hearing officers basically review cases where you seek to recover lost wages or payments from your employer.1 Complaints can also involve wage theft and violations of state sick leave laws.
The Office also handles some retaliation claims. For instance, employers cannot fire, demote, reduce your pay, or suspend you just for filing a labor complaint. (Learn about whistleblower retaliation.)
The California Labor Commission is also known as the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE). The DLSE falls under the Department of Industrial Relations and enforces the California labor code.
3.1. Alternatives to the California Labor Commissioner
You are not limited to filing wage and hour complaints with just the Labor Commission in California. If you have a legitimate wage/hour complaint, you can also raise these complaints by:
- filing a lawsuit in California Superior Court, and/or
- filing a wage claim with a federal agency of the United States.10
In our experience, we find it best to bypass the Labor Commissioner complaint process by requesting that they grant us a “right to sue” notice right away. This way, we can get started on litigating your case without any administrative delays.
The civil servants at the Labor Commissioner are overworked and simply lack the time and resources to pursue the best resolution for your case. As your attorneys, we would fight tirelessly for the biggest financial settlement allowable under the law to cover your unpaid compensation and all other damages you incurred, including pain and suffering.
As to a federal claim, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) sets forth rules that employers must follow, on a national level, with regard to wages.11
3.2. Pros of the California Labor Commissioner
You normally have to choose between the three different forums for raising a wage and hour complaint.
Raising these labor law violations with the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement has certain benefits. Some of these are that the DLSE:
- is a cheaper alternative to a civil lawsuit,
- can compel witnesses to testify,
- can make employers produce critical employment documents, and
- can make employers pay penalties.
4. Are harassment and discrimination complaints limited to the CRD?
As with wage and hour complaints, you are not limited to just filing harassment and discrimination complaints with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing.
You can also raise these complaints by:
- filing a lawsuit in Superior Court, or
- filing a federal claim with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC.gov).13
4.1. Civil lawsuits v. CRD claims
Many claimants prefer to raise a discrimination or harassment complaint with the CRD because:
- it is cheaper in comparison to a civil lawsuit, which involves a lot of pretrial preparation and subpoenas
- the CRD can force employers to provide key evidence,
- the CRD can pursue an action against your employer in civil court, and
- the CRD can work with your employer to create more just employment policies and practices.
(To make a discrimination or harassment complaint with the CRD, click here. Alternatively, mail in a complaint or call in the complaint.)
5. What are retaliation complaints?
“Retaliation” sometimes occurs after you raise a labor board complaint. Retaliation means that your employer or co-worker:
- takes some kind of unfavorable action against you, and
- does so just because you brought the labor board complaint.
This type of conduct is strictly prohibited under both California law and federal law.
5.1. Types of retaliation
Retaliation can take the form of:
- workplace harassment,
- workplace bullying,
- wrongful termination (or demotion),
- immigration retaliation, and
- failing to pay wages.
6. How do I contact the labor board in California?
To contact the California Labor Commission, click here for a list of local phone numbers, email addresses, and frequently asked questions. The complaint needs to be filed with the correct DLSE offices (listed below):
7718 Meany Ave
7575 Metropolitan Dr.,
1550 W. Main St.
455 Golden Gate Ave.,
770 E. Shaw Avenue,
100 Paseo de San Antonio,
1500 Hughes Way
2 MacArthur Place
320 W. Fourth Street,
411 E. Canon Perdido,
1515 Clay Street,
50 “D” Street,
250 Hemsted Drive,
31 E. Channel Street,
2031 Howe Avenue,
6150 Van Nuys Blvd.,
950 E. Blanco Rd.,
Van Nuys – Entertainment Work Permits
6150 Van Nuys Blvd.,
464 W. Fourth Street,
AB 633- Garment Enforcement Unit
320 W. Fourth Street,
Click here for more information on garment worker claims.
To contact the CRD, click here.
7. How do I file a complaint with the California Labor Board?
To make a wage theft complaint with the California Labor Commissioner’s Office, click here. You will likely have to fill out Form 1 (initial claim) and Form 55 (wage claim listing amounts owed by your employer per pay period).
7.1. Conferences and hearings
Within a few months the labor board will schedule a conference where you and your employer (and their attorneys) appear before the commissioner. Once the labor board complaint gets finalized, the labor board will schedule a hearing. It is similar to a trial, complete with introducing evidence and subpoenaed witnesses giving testimony.
Ultimately the hearing officer will issue an order/decision/adjudication (ODA). If one of the parties appeals, the process transfers to a superior court. If you win the hearing and any appeals, the court will issue a judgment. At that point, it is usually your responsibility to collect the judgment.
7.2. Money damages
Before contacting the Labor Commissioner (DSLE), you should have your paystubs and W-2 Form (or 1099 Form). The entire process can span weeks to years, depending on the complexity of the case and whether your employer cooperates. Depending on the case, you may receive money for not only back pay for unpaid wages but also
- attorneys’ fees, and
- penalties for liquidated damages, bounced checks, and late paychecks (waiting time penalties).
First contact an attorney
It is recommended you consult with a labor law attorney before filing a complaint. Attorneys are skilled in how to compose complaints to maximize the odds of success.
In our experience, it may be best to skip over the complaint process and let us mail your employer a strongly-worded demand letter. We find that once employers see you are lawyered up, they are more likely to negotiate a favorable resolution. In most cases, we can win you a large settlement without having to go to trial.
For additional help…
For additional guidance or to discuss your case with a labor and employment lawyer, we invite you to contact our law firm at Shouse Law Group. We provide consultations and bona fide legal advice that you can trust. We assist clients throughout California, including the cities of San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Long Beach.
Injured at work? Contact our California workers’ compensation attorneys.
- California Labor Code section 98a. See also Labor Code sections 21, 79, 90, 90.5, 98, 200, 201, 202, 203, 204, 204a, 204b, 204c, 207, 221, 226.7, 227, 227.3, 510, 558, 1182.12, 1197, 2802. Cal. Code Regs., tit. 8, 11040 & 11070. See also Crestwood Behavioral Health, Inc. v. Lacy (. , 2021) 70 Cal. App. 5th 560
- California Government Code 12900, 12920, 12940 & 12960. See also Labor Code section 98.6. 29 U.S.C. § 631. Cal. Code Regs., tit. 8, 11040 & 11070.
- California Government Code 12940a.
- California Government Code 12940.
- See same.
- See same.
- Holmes v. Petrovich Development Co. (2011) 191 Cal.App.4th 1047.
- Mogilefsky v. Superior Court (1993) 20 Cal.App.4th 1409.
- Hughes v. Pair (2009) 46 Cal.4th 1035.
- See, for example, Reynolds v. Bement (2005) 36 Cal.4th 1075.
- 29 U.S.C. 201–219.
- 29 U.S.C. 211.
- California Government Code 12965 GC. As to federal law, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects certain groups from discrimination. Federal law prohibits discrimination on the same basis as set forth under California’s employment laws.