Wage disputes occur in the context of wage negotiations or the nonpayment of wages. Employment law and labor law are concerned with wage negotiations— that is, when employees ask for higher wages. Wage Negotiations usually involve issues with either unions or government wage standards. 

Wage Disputes and Unions

A wage dispute with unions can arise when unionized boycotts and strikes result in collective bargaining agreements. The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) gives workers the right to vote on whether they want to be represented by a union. A union negotiates for higher wages and better benefits like health insurance and time off.

Violations of Wage Standards Involving the Government

A wage dispute involving the government arises when national and state wage standards are violated. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) establishes workers’ rights to a minimum wage and overtime pay. The FLSA does not prevent states from enacting laws that increase the state or local minimum wage. For example, the federal minimum wage is $7.25/hr (effective July 24, 2009). However, the minimum wage in California is $8/hr. And, the minimum wage in San Francisco is $10.55/hr (effective January 1, 2013).

Employment Contracts: How Wage Disputes Relate to Contract Principles?

A wage dispute also arises when the employer has paid the employee something less than what the employee expected, or has not paid at all. For example, there have been stories of the families of crew members of open-ocean vessels not receiving checks when this was what was contracted for. In this case, the answer lies in the principles of contract law.

What Are Some Other Wage Dispute Settings?

There have also been wage disputes involving incorrect amounts being written on workers’ W-2s. In other cases, workers’ income has not been withheld for tax purposes. Some employers fail to pay workers' compensation. These wage disputes can be solved by appealing to the proper government agency, such as the International Revenue Service (IRS), Social Security Administration (SSA), or the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). 

Seeking Help from an Attorney

Since wage disputes may arise in a variety of settings and may be regulated by diverse legal principles, a qualified employment lawyer may help you understand your specific situation. An attorney may also be necessary to help you with complex issues such as wage negotiations during collective bargaining.