A California labor board complaint is where employees complain to a state agency that hears and investigates employment disputes, about improper actions by an employer. While technically there is not one California agency specifically named “labor board,” there are several state agencies that handle employment grievances.
The two main “labor boards” in California are the Labor Commissioner’s Office and the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). While the Labor Commissioner’s Office hears mostly disputes involving wage and hour claims, the DFEH’s most common complaints involve employment discrimination and harassment.
Examples of wage and hour violations include an employer:
- failing to pay a worker the minimum wage,
- failing to pay an employee overtime, and
- refusing to provide a worker meal breaks and/or rest periods.
Most discrimination and harassment complaints involve an employer treating an employee unfairly because of his/her:
Note that employees are not limited to bringing wage and hour complaints in front of California’s Labor Commission. They can also file these complaints:
- in state civil court, or
- with the U.S. Department of Labor.
Similarly, employees are not limited to bringing discrimination/harassment claims in front of the DFEH. They can also raise these disputes:
- in civil court, or
- with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Some employees bring retaliation complaints after raising a labor board complaint. Retaliation is when an employer, or co-worker:
- treats the employee unfairly, and
- does so just because he/she raised the complaint.
Retaliation is unlawful under both California law and federal law.
Our California labor and employment lawyers will highlight the following in this article:
- 1. What are the two main state agencies that handle employment disputes?
- 2. What are the most common employment complaints in the State of California?
- 3. Are wage and hour complaints limited to the California Labor Commissioner’s Office?
- 4. Are harassment and discrimination complaints limited to the DFEH?
- 5. What are retaliation complaints?
1. What are the two main state agencies that handle employment disputes?
California has two main state “labor boards” that hear and investigate employment grievances. These are:
The Labor Commissioner’s Office mostly handles disputes concerning:
- unpaid wages and wage claims,
- meal breaks and rest breaks, and
- similar complaints related to a worker’s earnings.
The DFEH handles complaints mostly regarding:
- employment discrimination, and
- employee harassment.
2. What are the most common employment complaints in the State of 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 Labor Commissioner’s Office.
The Labor Commissioner’s hearing officers basically review cases where an employee seeks to recover lost wages or payments from his/her employer.1
Common wage/hour violations under California law involve an employer:
- failing to pay the minimum wage,
- failing to pay overtime,
- refusing to provide meal breaks and/or rest periods,
- misclassifying employees as exempt from wage/hour requirements, and
- misclassifying employees as independent contractors.
Complaints can also involve wage theft and violations of state sick leave laws.
The Office also handles some retaliation claims. Most of these cases involve whistleblower retaliation.
Note that the Labor Commissioner’s Office 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.
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
Note that discrimination can take place in a variety of ways. Often, though, it involves an employer treating certain employees differently as to:
- pay and earnings,
- working conditions,
- job duties,
- promotions and advancements, and
- the terms of their employment.
2.2.2. Harassment claims
The FEHA prohibits both:
Non-sexual harassment is when:
- an employer creates, or allows, a hostile work environment, and
- it is one in which an employee is harassed on the basis of any of the above categories involving discrimination.5
Unlawful harassment can also be based on an employee’s:
- immigration status,
- national origin, or
Sexual harassment comes in two forms under California State law. These are:
- “quid pro quo” harassment, and
- “hostile work environment” harassment.7
“Quid pro quo” harassment is when supervisors demand sexual favors for a workplace benefit.8
A “hostile work environment” can also constitute sexual harassment. An employee can bring this type of claim if:
- the employee is the recipient of unwelcome advances, conduct or comments,
- the harassment is in some sense based on the employee’s sex, and
- the harassment is either severe or pervasive enough to alter the conditions of employment.9
3. Are wage and hour complaints limited to the California Labor Commissioner’s Office?
Employees are not limited to filing wage and hour complaints with just the California Labor Commissioner’s Office.
If they have a legitimate wage/hour complaint, they 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
A lawsuit allows the employee to recover any unpaid compensation that the employer may owe.
As to a federal claim, note that the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) sets forth rules that employers must follow, on a national level, with regards to wages.11
The Act also sets forth a complaint process for employees to follow in the event an employer violates one of these rules.12 Typically, the Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor handles these disputes.
Employees normally have to chose 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 not found with Superior Court and the Labor Department. 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 DFEH?
As with wage and hour complaints, employees are not limited to just filing harassment and discrimination complaints with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing.
They 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).
As to a civil lawsuit, note that an employee cannot file a claim in Superior Court unless he/she has exhausted all administrative remedies. This means that the employee must file a harassment/discrimination claim with either the EEOC or California’s DFEH before raising a civil lawsuit.13
As to federal law, note that 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.
Many claimants prefer to raise a discrimination or harassment complaint with the DFEH because:
- it is cheaper in comparison to a civil lawsuit,
- the DFEH can force employers to provide key evidence,
- the DFEH can pursue an action against the employer in civil court, and
- the DFEH can work with the employer to create more just employment policies and practices.
5. What are retaliation complaints?
“Retaliation” sometimes occurs after a worker raises a labor board complaint.
Retaliation means that an employer, or co-worker:
- takes some kind of unfavorable action against the employee, and
- does so just because he/she brought the labor board complaint.
This type of conduct is strictly prohibited under both California law and federal law.
Retaliation can take the form of:
- workplace harassment,
- workplace bullying,
- wrongful termination,
- immigration retaliation, and
- failing to pay wages.
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 free 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.
- California Labor Code 98a.
- California Government Code 12900.
- 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.