A recent article from the Los Angeles Daily Journal (Vol. 125 No. 057, March 23, 2012) reports “Wage claims get uneven treatment, records show.” According to the article, data obtained through a Public Records Act request and interviews with lawyers representing business and workers reveals significant delays.
State law requires the Labor Commissioner to conduct its hearings within 120 days after filing. The Daily Journal’s analysis shows that 11 of the 16 regional offices did not meet that obligation in 2011. Different offices report different average waiting periods, with Oakland showing the worst results: over 400 days to get to a hearing. Santa Rosa, on the other hand, gets its cases to hearing within 85 days. San Francisco heard its cases within 301 days on average. San Jose averaged approximately 275 days to get to a hearing.
The study did not discuss how long it takes for a decision to get mailed after the hearing. By law, the decision is supposed to be written within 15 days after the hearing. In my experience, however, it often takes several months to receive the actual decision. This sometimes means a case can take between one to two years to resolve if filed with the Labor Commissioner. Cases take even longer if they are then appealed to superior court for a trial de novo.
Budget cutbacks and state-mandated furloughs as well as an increase in claims filed are main causes of the long delays. In some cases, the state assigns hearing officers from other jurisdictions to help carry some of the load, and I’ve seen an improvement in the speed with which cases proceed in the last few months, but there are still significant delays. In many instances, a case can move more quickly through court than through the Labor Commissioner.
The Daily Journal article also discusses perceived inconsistent rulings reported by several practitioners.
When deciding whether to proceed with a Labor Commissioner claim, claimants should consider the length of time it will take to receive a decision. Employers should realize that they may need to maintain records for a longer period than required by law so they can ensure they have appropriate evidence and witnesses by the time a hearing comes around.
If you are contemplating filing a claim with the Labor Commissioner, or if you’ve recently been notified that a claim has been filed, I highly recommend speaking with competent counsel familiar with the Labor Commissioner and wage and hour issues.
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