If you’ve been fired by a California employer, what are your rights? If you’re owed for commissions, and you’re not being paid, where can you turn? Can an employment law firm in San Francisco help?

Our state leads the nation with its progressive attitude toward the needs of working families and the rights of working men and women. Employees in California probably enjoy more legal rights and protections that working people in the other forty-nine states.

Nevertheless, employees in this state can still find themselves in disputes with employers who may not be entirely compliant with the law. For instance, most employees in California expect a final paycheck from an employer on their last working day or immediately thereafter.

WHAT ARE AN EMPLOYER’S OBLIGATIONS REGARDING COMMISSIONS?

Commission payments, however, may be scheduled differently, and if you’ve been terminated, you may have difficulty collecting your final commission payment. There may even be a dispute regarding whether or not you did or did not earn a particular commission.

worker getting fired

California employers must pay employee wages within a specified time period. If an employee quits or is fired, any wages owed must be paid more-or-less immediately. If an employer doesn’t pay wages in a timely manner, an employee may be able to take legal action to seek damages.

EXACTLY WHEN DO COMMISSIONS HAVE TO BE PAID?

Bonuses and commissions are defined as wages in this state. Employees who are fired (or who quit) must be paid their final wages on the last day of their employment or as soon thereafter as possible.

In some circumstances, if a commission or bonus cannot be accurately determined at the time of the resignation or termination, the commission or bonus must be paid as soon as it can be accurately calculated.

If a commission is earned on or prior to the resignation/termination date, the employer must pay the commission on that date (in the case of termination or a resignation with more than 72 hours’ notice) or within 72 hours (in the case of a resignation with less than 72 hours’ notice).

In other words, under California law, when employment ends for a California employee, the employer may not be allowed to wait until the next “regular” payday to calculate or to pay already-earned commissions.

WHAT ABOUT INCOMPLETE COMMISSIONS OR PARTIAL COMMISSIONS?

However, if a commission was earned but not yet formally finalized when the employment ends – for instance, a customer’s payment earning a commission is in the mail but not yet received –payment for the commission must be made at once upon completion of the necessary paperwork.

employees at work

If an employee is laid off or fired prior to completing the terms of a commission, the employee may or may not have a right to a pro-rata share of the commission. That will depend on the details, which are different in every situation where a commission payment is delayed or denied.

However, generally speaking, whether an employee quits a job, is terminated for cause, or is laid off does not impact an employer’s obligation to pay the employee in a way that is compliant with California law.

IF YOU’RE NOT BEING PAID PROPERLY, WHO CAN HELP?

In the San Francisco-Oakland area, if you are having difficulty collecting a commission – or any wages that you are owed by an employer – discuss your situation immediately with an experienced San Francisco employment rights attorney.

When a California employer willfully avoids paying wages owed to a resigned or terminated employee within the time allowed by law, the employee may choose to file a legal action with the help of a California employment rights lawyer.

If a California employer has a “good faith” reason for failing to pay any wages that a former employee believes he or she is entitled to, the employer must offer a defense to explain why the wages are not being paid.

CAN YOU SUE FOR UNPAID COMMISSIONS?

A former employee who believes that he or she is entitled to unpaid wages, which may include bonuses and commissions, may file a lawsuit to recover the unpaid wages and may additionally receive other damages as provided by state law.

If a California employer violates your legal rights, there may be a pattern of comparable violations against other employees. If you take legal action to obtain unpaid wages, your attorney will investigate the employer’s history for any evidence that will strengthen your claim.

employees rights

An employee who prevails with a lawsuit for unpaid wages may be awarded the wages that are owed along with attorney’s fees, court costs, and statutory damages. If a California employer’s failure to pay an employee was not based on a good faith mistake, in some cases the employee may be able to collect double damages.

WHAT IS A COMMISSION PLAN?

Employees who have resigned or have been terminated should also understand that they may have to complete paperwork or take other actions before an employer can determine that a commission has been fully earned and finalized.

Many in California whose work involves commissions – realtors, insurance agents, and other salespeople – have a written commission plan that specifies what it takes before a commission is considered fully earned and finalized.

A commission plan should also spell out any differences between routine payments and final payments, and it should additionally explain if and when employees are entitled to a percentage of a commission if the full commission amount has not or cannot be finalized.

WHAT’S THE BEST STRATEGY FOR PEOPLE WHO EARN COMMISSIONS?

As a matter of routine, employees who earn commissions should always retain copies of their employment contracts, employee handbooks, and any documents that specifically relate to their commissions or to specific commissions that may be in dispute.

Keep copies of everything. If you are denied a commission that you believe should be yours, and if you choose to take legal action against the employer, your employment rights lawyer will need documentation that supports your claim.

If you are an employee or an ex-employee who is dealing with any kind of wage dispute, speak immediately to an experienced San Francisco employment rights attorney about your legal options.

san francisco courts

If your employer has failed to pay you what is yours, the law in California will be on your side. Promptly obtaining an employment lawyer’s help and standing up for yourself is not only your right, but if an employer is taking advantage of you, it’s the right thing to do.

By: Fred Geonetta

Frederick J. Geonetta is a graduate of the University of California, Hastings College of Law. His legal practice is entirely devoted to litigation. Mr. Geonetta has spent the past 25 years in private practice representing both plaintiffs and defendants who have been harmed or wronged by the actions of others or who have been falsely accused of causing harm to others. He represents clients across the U.S. and international clients who seek U.S. legal advice or representation.