Wage disputes can take several forms. Employees may dispute the amount of wages they are paid by claiming they were not paid the correct amount. An employee can claim, for a given pay period, that they were not paid at all. Employee wage disputes are governed by wage standard laws. These include minimum wage and overtime wage laws.

What are Wage Standard Laws?

Most employers must follow the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). This law requires employers to pay employees a minimum wage. The federal minimum wage is currently $7.25 per hour. The law requires that employers pay employees overtime pay, at a rate of 1.5 times their regular pay. Overtime pay applies once an employee has worked 40 hours in a work week. Any hours worked beyond that, are subject to the overtime pay rule. 

Keep in mind that states often have a separate minimum wage law, which is covered in greater detail below. 

Who is Not Covered by Wage Standard Laws?

Not all employees are covered by the FLSA’s provisions. Employees who are not covered by the FLSA’s provisions are known as “FLSA-exempt” employees. To be exempt from the FLSA overtime and minimum wage laws, an employee must be paid on a salaried (as opposed to hourly) basis. Being a salaried employee means an employee receives a fixed salary that does not vary with the amount of hours worked per week or month. 

For minimum wage and overtime laws to not apply to an employee, the employee must also perform work that is exempted from FLSA coverage. Work that is exempted from FLSA coverage includes the following types of work:

  • Executive Work: Executive work consists primarily of managing a business, or a department of a business. Generally, to be an “executive,”an employee must supervise other employees. The employee must also have a say over who gets hired and fired.
  • Administrative Work: Administrative work consists mainly of office or non-manual work. This work must relate to how a business is operated or managed. Performance of administrative work involves exercise of judgment and discretion.
  • Professional Work: Professional work is work for which advanced knowledge in a learning or science field is needed. The knowledge needs to be acquired by a specialized program or course of study.
  • Computer Employee Work: Computer systems analysts, programmers, and engineers may be exempt from the FLSA if they perform certain systems analysis, development, design, or other tasks.
  • Outside Sales Employee Work: Outside sales employees who regularly work somewhere other than at the office location, and whose job it is to obtain service contracts or make sales, are exempt.

When Do State Minimum Wage and Overtime Laws Apply?

An employee who is “exempt” from the FLSA may not be exempt from a state’s minimum wage or overtime law. This is so because a number of states do not consider as “exempt,” work that the FLSA considers exempt. For example, some states may not consider computer employee work to be exempt. In addition, state minimum wage laws may be more generous than those under the FLSA. 

A number of states have set the state minimum wage at a rate higher than $7.25 per hour. If a state wage law conflicts with or differs from the FLSA, the law providing the more generous protections to the employee prevails. This means, for example, that if a state minimum wage law is $9.00 an hour, that law will apply over the FLSA $7.25 rate, since $9.00 is more favorable to the employee. 

Can I Sue an Employer Who Has Not Properly Paid Me?

Individuals who have been underpaid or who have not been paid wages, are entitled to sue the employer in court. The FLSA and most state laws require employers to keep records of how many hours per week an employee works. Employers must also keep records of the rate of pay; and the total weekly earnings paid. 

If an employer does not maintain this information, then a court may accept an employee’s allegations of nonpayment or underpayment as true. In cases where employers maintain records, a court looks at both the employer’s records and evidence produced by the employee, and determines who should prevail in the wage dispute.

What Other Laws May Apply to a Wage Dispute?

Employees may have an employment contract with their employer. The employment contract may state the rate of pay. If an employee believes they are not being properly paid, the employee can sue the employer. In these cases, a judge will look over the contract, and decide who should prevail. The judge will apply principles of contract law in making their decision. 

Do I Need the Help of a Lawyer With a Wage Dispute?

If you believe you have not been properly paid, you should contact an employment lawyer. An experienced employment lawyer near you can review the facts of your case. The attorney can explain your rights and options. The attorney can also represent you in hearings, negotiations, and in court.