Wage and hour laws are in place to govern the basic standards for minimum wages and overtime pay in the workplace. The main wage and hour law which regulates such topics in America is the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”). Among other things, the Act covers these main issues:
- Minimum Wage: FLSA sets standards for the wages that are to be paid to employees;
- Overtime Pay: FLSA states when and who may be eligible to receive overtime pay; and
- Child Labor Protection: The Act also maintains provisions which protect children from child labor.
The rules set out in the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) are to be followed by all employers, with very few exceptions. In addition to complying with all applicable FLSA standards, employers must maintain accurate records regarding wages and hours. Failure to do so can result in legal consequences, and may result in wage and hour lawsuits filed by employees.
Although each state maintains their own labor laws and standards, the FLSA is universal and must be adhered to. There are several ways in which your employer might violate the wage and hour laws of the state in which you work. Some examples of this could include:
- Failing to pay you your agreed upon salary or hourly wages, or unpaid wages, which is a breach of employment contract;
- Failing or refusing to pay you at all;
- Not paying you at the agreed upon time, such as biweekly, monthly, etc.;
- Failing to pay you your vacation pay or sick pay;
- Unpaid overtime hours;
- Failing to reimburse you for business expenses that would otherwise be reimbursed;
- Failing to cover your maternity leave if it would otherwise be covered; or
- Wage garnishment.
Unpaid wages, or a denial of the wages, salary, or benefits that an employee is entitled to receive are all forms of wage theft. This is one of the most commonly occurring wage and hour violations. As previously mentioned, unpaid wages occur when an employer fails to pay an employee what they are legally owed.
Sometimes referred to as withheld salary or wages, unpaid wages occur when:
- The employer fails to pay overtime wages;
- The employer fails to meet minimum wage requirements;
- The employees are intentionally miscategorized in such a way so that they are paid less than they should be;
- Clerical or administrative errors are made;
- The employee is not paid for all of their services;
- There are disputes regarding paid leave or other benefits;
- Salaries are withheld when an employee files for disability; or
- Business expenses paid out of pocket are not reimbursed as they should be.
What Should I Do if My Employer Has Not Paid Me?
Your very first step should be to speak with your employer in order to learn whether they have a reasonable explanation for failing to pay you. This could be due to something such as a clerical error, or a bank error.
If it seems that this is not the case, and that your employer does not intend to pay you the money you are owed, you will need to contact your state’s agency responsible for dealing with wage and hour requirements. Additionally, you may wish to file a claim with the Wage and Hour Division (“WHD”) of the U.S. Department of Labor.
The WHD will most likely conduct an investigation in order to determine whether there are any FLSA violations. If a violation is found, they may enforce penalties against your employer. These penalties could include a demand that the employer adjusts their labor policies. If the Department of Labor is unable to provide you with an appropriate remedy, you may then file a civil lawsuit against your employer. By doing so, you could be entitled to receive a damages award for losses.
An example of such an award would be back pay. It is important to note that by law, employers are prohibited from firing an employee out of retaliation for their reporting of wage and hour disputes in the workplace.
In order to prove a wage and hour dispute, you will need to provide some documentation that will be analyzed and utilized as evidence of your claim. Some examples of adequate documentation and statements include:
- Pay stubs;
- Work logs, such as an input of clocking in and out;
- Tax documents;
- Receipts; and
- Statements from other coworkers who have similar experiences.
What Can I Do About Unpaid Wages?
It is important to understand that it is illegal to fire or otherwise punish an employee for filing a complaint for unpaid wages. As such, if you are an employee who has not received their fair wages, you should not hesitate to file a complaint if necessary. Filing a complaint for unpaid wages might involve:
- Filing an internal complaint with the company’s human resources department;
- Filing a complaint with a government agency, such as the “EEOC” (the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission); or
- Filing a private civil lawsuit if all other means of action have been exhausted.
As previously discussed, you can also contact the Wage and Hour Division to report a potential FLSA (Fair Labor Standards Act) wage violation. You may also contact them in order to find out more information about infractions and reporting procedures.
Generally speaking, filing an internal complaint with the company’s human resources department is sufficient enough to correct a mistake or simple oversight. However, if the complaint involves the human resources department itself, or if the internal complaint is not enough, a civil lawsuit may be necessary. If several employees are affected by unpaid wages all at once, a class action lawsuit may be filed.
Many cases of unpaid wages involve employment discrimination, such as those due to race, gender, or other personal characteristics. In cases such as these, legal issues may overlap, and a remedy is not so straightforward. A wage attorney can assist by determining what all legal issues may affect your case, as well as how best to proceed.
What Remedies Might Be Available for an Unpaid Wages Claim?
Withholding salary and other wage infractions are illegal. Such violations may result in severe legal consequences which can include:
- A damages award, paid by the employer to the defendant, intended to make up for lost wages and other costs;
- A required change in company policies, such as replacing the policies that lead to the infraction;
- Termination of the employer or supervisor who was responsible for the unpaid wages; or
- Business consequences such as a suspension of license, civil fines, and other penalties.
The FLSA provides some different remedies you may be awarded in order to recover the wages that are owed to you. If you are successful in a wage and hour claim against your employer, you may:
- Recover all unpaid wages for hours you worked;
- Recover any unpaid overtime wages;
- Receive punitive damages, or penalty damages; and
- Have your attorney’s fees and court costs covered by the defendant.
Some other remedies that might be available for an unpaid wages claim include:
- Losses related to your claim, such as lost profits on a deal;
- Requiring your employer to change their payment and hour requirements;
- Investigations into the company’s overall recordkeeping practices;
- Firing any responsible supervisors or managers; or
- Reinstating the worker back to their previous position, if they were terminated in connection with the dispute.
Do I Need an Attorney if I Have Issues with Unpaid Wages?
One of the main benefits to working with a wage and hour lawyer is that they will be aware of any wage and hour laws that may apply to your case. If you are facing issues with unpaid wages, you should consult with a skilled and knowledgeable employment lawyer in your area.
An experienced and local employment lawyer will be able to determine your best course of action, as well as work towards a suitable damages award based on the circumstances of your issue. Additionally, an attorney will also be able represent you in court as needed.