California labor laws are designed to protect the rights of workers across the state. When an employee’s rights under the wage and hour laws of California are violated, they have recourse through two primary avenues: (1) filing an administrative action with the appropriate governmental agency or (2) pursuing a civil lawsuit in the court system.

In this blog post, we’ll explore the two different ways employees can enforce their rights under California labor laws, providing insights into the processes, advantages, and considerations for each option.


California Labor Commissioner’s Office (DLSE)

The California Labor Commissioner’s Office, also known as the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE), is the state agency responsible for enforcing labor laws. Employees can file administrative complaints with the DLSE to address various workplace violations, including wage and hour disputes, unpaid wages, and retaliation.

Filing a DLSE Complaint

Employees initiate the process by filing a complaint with the DLSE. As a part of the intake process, the representatives of the DLSE will examine the facts of the given situation, determine if there is a potential violation of the employee’s rights, and commence administrative action. The Labor Commissioner’s website provides detailed information about how to file a claim with the DLSE. A claim can even be filed online.

DLSE Settlement Conference

In most cases, a settlement conference between the employee and employer is scheduled to resolve the issues. If the issues are not resolved at the conference, a hearing is scheduled so a hearing officer can review the evidence and make a decision on the claim.

Administrative Hearing

If a resolution isn’t reached through settlement, the DLSE will conduct an administrative hearing to adjudicate the dispute. The hearing resembles a trial, where both parties present evidence, witnesses, and arguments. The Labor Commissioner issues a decision, which can be appealed to the superior court if necessary. There are helpful videos from the Labor Commissioner’s office which explain the process and what to expect.


Employees also have the option to pursue their claims through the court system by filing a civil lawsuit in a superior court. This allows for a more formal and comprehensive legal process with potential remedies beyond those available through administrative complaints.

Filing a Civil Lawsuit

To initiate a civil lawsuit, an employee will file a complaint in the appropriate superior court, detailing the alleged violations and seeking specific remedies. Although employees have the option of representing themselves, it is almost always in their best interest to be represented by experienced lawyers who understand California wage hour laws and have the experience necessary to successfully litigate the claim.

Discovery and Trial

The lawsuit proceeds through the discovery phase, where both parties exchange documents, evidence, and other information. After the discovery phase, the case culminates in a civil trial before a judge or jury. The trier of fact will consider the evidence and make a decision.


Depending on the facts and circumstances of the given case, it may be more advantageous for the employee to pursue one option versus the other. Filing a lawsuit in court is very different from pursuing an administrative action with the DLSE. Each comes with its own set of advantages and disadvantages, which should be carefully considered before deciding on the proper course of action.

For example, one of the advantages of pursuing an administrative complaint is that it will likely move quicker than court action. On the other hand, civil lawsuits can provide additional remedies that an employee may not be able to recover in an administrative case.

Before choosing the better course of action, it is highly recommended that the employee carefully considers the benefits and detriments of both options. Understanding the options for enforcing California labor laws empowers employees to make informed decisions based on their unique circumstances. Whether choosing the administrative route through the DLSE or opting for a civil lawsuit, seeking legal counsel is advisable to navigate the complexities of the legal process and achieve the best possible outcome in addressing workplace violations.

Akopyan Law Firm, A.P.C. Provides Skilled, Experienced Representation

We are employment lawyers in Southern California who have helped hundreds of clients achieve great results. If you are involved in a dispute involving this area of employment law, our experienced employment lawyers stand ready to help. We help employers understand their obligations, and employees understand their rights. When you are ready to move forward and want skilled representation, a complimentary consultation, and attorneys who protect your rights, contact us or visit our website.