California employees and job applicants who are the victims of discrimination or retaliation because they complained about unpaid wages are now eligible to receive a civil penalty of up to $10,000. Many times employees begin working at a job only to find that their new employer is breaking the law by refusing to pay them at least minimum wage for all hours worked or overtime. The new employee complains and is promptly fired. Labor Code section 98.6 outlaws such conduct, but it is hard for the employee to take action because often the employee only worked a short period for the employer, and his or her damages may only be a few hundred dollars. The employee may not be able to find an attorney to take the case and the work required for the employee to take the case to the Labor Commissioner on his or her own may not be worth the very limited potential recovery.
By directing payment of the up to $10,000 penalty to the employee who has been harmed, California now makes it possible for employees to recover an amount closer to the value of their lost wages and the aggravation and upset of having been the victim of unlawful retaliation.