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What Is Back Pay?
“Back Pay” refers to a common remedy for employment violations involving lost wages or benefits. With back pay awards, the employer is required to make up for any difference between what an employee was paid and the amount that they should have been paid. This sum is called “back pay”.
Most back pay awards are distributed through the involvement of a government employment agency such as the U.S. Department of Labor. Such administrative agencies usually award back pay based on the provisions contained in the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).
When Am I Entitled to Back Pay?
An employee may be entitled for back pay for several different reasons. Some common grounds for awarding back pay include:
- Wrongful termination claims resulting in lost wages
- Unlawful employment practices, such as denial of promotion or withholding overtime pay
- Withholding wages in order to prevent an employee from reporting misconduct, or as a form of punishment for reporting previous misconduct
- Retroactive increases in pay
Thus, anytime an employee loses wages which they are rightfully entitled to, they may have a claim for a back pay award. Most back pay awards are issued in connection with wrongful termination based on employment discrimination or workplace harassment.
How Much Back Pay Can I Recover?
The amount of recovery for back pay depends on the type of violation as well as the nature of the employment. Under FLSA standards, employees are entitled to receive at least minimum wage in back pay. Also, if they have been wrongfully denied overtime pay, they are entitled to standard overtime pay rates (usually time and a half).
On the other hand if the back pay is in dispute in a private lawsuit, the plaintiff may be able to recover other types of damages as well. For example, if the employer acted with malicious intent in denying the wages, it may result in a punitive damages award (though this may be limited according to jurisdiction).
What Types of Methods Are There for Recovering Back Pay?
Again, the Fair Labor Standards Act is the main statute which regulates workplace disputes over back pay. The FLSA provides several avenues of relief for persons seeking to recover back wages:
- Payment of back wages may be supervised through the Wage and Hour Division
- Suit may be filed by the Secretary of Labor to obtain back wages and/or liquidated damages
- The employee(s) themselves may file a private lawsuit for back pay, liquidated damages, attorney’s fees, plus court costs
- The Secretary of Labor can also file for an injunction prohibiting future violations of FLSA, including unauthorized withholding of wages and overtime pay
You should note that a private lawsuit usually cannot be filed if you have already been paid back wages through the Wage and Hour Division or through a suit brought by the Secretary of Labor.
In general, you have two years from the time of the incident to file for recovery of back pay. If the violation involves willful conduct by the employer, the statute of limitations (filing deadline) is three years.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Legal Disputes over Back Pay?
Withholding wages is prohibited under law and may result in penalties against the employer. If you are involved in a dispute over back pay, you should consider contacting an employment lawyer. Your attorney can help you file your claim under the FLSA with the appropriate authorities. Alternatively, your lawyer can represent you if you wish to file a private lawsuit.
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Last Modified: 02-18-2015 11:01 AM PST
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