Can I file a lien for unpaid salary while working for the general contractor?

4 months ago

I’m the project manager for the general contractor on an ongoing project (still in construction). For a few months time (3 months) my employer (the general contractor) and I had an agreement that I would receive my normal agreed salary for those months at a deferred time towards the end of the project. We even documented it as a “deferral election” on my pay stubs. We eventually got back on track with the normal salary being paid, but I have still not been paid for the months worked previously. In the mean time, my employer is going bankrupt and the owner is slowly taking over the general contract duties and payments to suppliers and subs. Do I have lien rights for the time I deferred my salary? I’m still working on the project but thinking that I need to take action to get paid directly from the owner.

Senior Legal Associate Levelset
132 reviews

Employees are entitled to mechanics lien rights as laborers in California when they’ve gone unpaid for their work on a construction project.

Laborers are specifically entitled to lien under § 8400 of the California Civil Code, and the term “laborer” is defined as “a person who, acting as an employee, performs labor upon, or bestows skill or other necessary services on, a work of improvement.” (emphasis added) under § 8024. So, for employees of a GC who go unpaid on a California construction project, lien rights will typically be available.

Keep in mind, though, that California mechanics lien claimants are generally unable to file a mechanics lien until they’ve either completed their contract or ceased work on the project. And, California courts seem to be taking this seriously – we discuss that in this article: California Mechanics Lien Deadline | When Does the Clock Begin to Tick? As discussed in that article, when a would-be claimant’s work is ongoing on a project, a mechanics lien filing would be premature.

Options in the meantime

Before it comes down to that, though, it might be helpful to discuss the situation with the property owner and try to come to some payment arrangement. After all, most property owners will do whatever it takes to ensure their property isn’t encumbered with lien claims. And, even if they’re unwilling to come to some payment arrangement, a mechanics lien claim would still be on the table.

Further, even in a situation where the payment topic has become contentious, sending documents like demand letters and a Notice of Intent to Lien can lead to payment without the need for an actual lien filing.

I hope this information has been helpful! For more background on California mechanics lien claims and how to make them, these resources should be valuable:
(1) California Mechanics Lien Guide and FAQs
(2) How to File A California Mechanics Lien – Step By Step Guide

Disclaimer: The information presented here is not legal advice and should not be construed as such. Rather, this content is provided for informational purposes. Do not act on this information as if it is advice. Further, this post does not create any attorney-client relationship. If you do need legal advice, seek the help of a local attorney.
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