Unfair wages, also known as wage discrimination, is generally defined as the failure to fairly compensate employees for their work or in an amount that falls below the standard minimum wage. Unfair wage claims provide the basis of most employment law cases. Such lawsuits typically focus on two primary areas of employment law: wage and hour laws and discrimination laws

Some examples of unfair pay practices in the workplace include:

  • Paying a worker less because of their national origin, gender, race, sex, disability, religion, or age;
  • Failing to pay a worker for the amount of overtime worked;
  • Withholding retirement pensions, disability payments, or health insurance benefits;
  • Misclassifying employees as “exempt” when they are a nonexempt worker;
  • Requiring employees to report fewer hours than they actually worked in a given a workweek; and/or
  • Withholding a paycheck or underpaying an employee. 

As you can see, there are many ways for an employer to engage in illegal practices involving unfair wages. Thus, if you believe that your employer has not fully compensated you for your work, then it may be in your best interest to contact a local employment law attorney immediately. An attorney can analyze your situation and can determine whether you may be able to sue your employer for damages. 

What Are Some Other Issues Involved in Lawsuits for Unfair Wages?

Aside from the illegal practices mentioned in the above section, some other issues that may be associated with unfair pay at work include: 

  • Falsified wage records: It is illegal to falsify wage records, timesheets, or the amount of hours an employee has worked. Such actions will not only affect an employee’s ability to receive a promotion or raise, but it can also impact their eligibility for health insurance and issues related to retirement accounts.
  • Child labor: Unfair wage issues can sometimes involve illegally employing individuals who are not allowed to work under the law, such as children or minors. 
  • Fraud: Fraud can be found in connection with falsified wage records. For example, intentionally or deliberately altering an employee’s wage records to get away with paying them less may constitute an instance of fraud.
  • Failure to pay the standard minimum wage: Both federal and state laws require that employers pay their workers at least the standard minimum wage. This wage rate may vary since the set amount for minimum wage usually increases over time due to inflation.

What Should I Do If I Have Legal Issues Involving Unfair Wages in My Workplace?

There may be several legal remedies available for issues involving unfair wages in the workplace. In order to report unfair wages, an employee must first file a complaint with a state or federal government agency that oversees unfair wage matters, such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”).

The agency that receives the complaint will then review the claim and open an investigation. If the agency does not find any evidence of what the employee is claiming, then they will close the matter and issue a “Right to Sue” letter to the employee. On the other hand, if the agency does find that the employer is in violation of the law or has committed the acts alleged in the complaint, then the agency will issue a suitable resolution (e.g., amend company policies).

Once an employee receives a “Right to Sue” letter, they may file a private civil lawsuit against their employer in court. If the employee is successful in bringing a lawsuit, then they may be able to recover a monetary damages award to make up for any losses.

It is important to note that the employee must exhaust all administrative remedies first (e.g., submitting a complaint to the EEOC), before they will be allowed to file a private civil lawsuit against their employer for damages.

In any event, an employee who believes they have received an unfair amount of wages for their work, should begin to collect and organize any evidence that would support their claim. Some examples of such evidence may include:

  • Employee income tax returns (e.g., W2s);
  • Work schedules or timesheets; and/or
  • Work-related documents (e.g., pay stubs, receipts, HR emails, job offer letters, employment contracts, etc.). 

An employee should also think about creating a written account of the violation, so that they have a record of the events leading up to the incident. If possible, this record should include the contact information and testimonies of anyone who witnessed or experienced the unfair wage violation. 

If several employees in an organization have been affected by an unpaid wage violation, then they may want to consider filing a class action lawsuit against their employer instead. Although class action lawsuits do not always guarantee a successful outcome in a case, it can serve as stronger evidence that a violation has occurred. This is because a large group of workers (as opposed to a single individual) are claiming to have been affected by the issue.

An example of when it may make more sense to file a class action lawsuit, rather than a private individual lawsuit, is when there has been a violation of the Equal Pay Act. The Equal Pay Act is a federal law that requires both men and women to be paid equally for performing the same work. 

Thus, if female legal assistants are paid less than male legal assistants at a particular law firm, the female legal assistants would likely be able to file a class action lawsuit against their law firm. In order to bring a successful case under the Equal Pay Act, the plaintiffs would need to prove the following:

  • That they were doing the same or equal work as their male counterparts;
  • That they worked at the same place (e.g., the law firm in this example); and
  • That despite all of this, they were being paid less than their counterparts.

Should I Hire a Lawyer for Help If I Have Issues Involving Unfair Wages?

Claims involving employment and/or labor laws can become quite complicated. In certain instances, you may need to have thorough knowledge of both federal and state employment laws that apply to your case. Therefore, if you have any questions concerning unfair wages or are involved in a dispute over unfair pay at work, then it may be in your best interest to consult a local employment lawyer as soon as possible.

An experienced employment lawyer will be able to review the facts of your claim and can determine whether or not you have a solid case. If your lawyer finds that you do have a viable claim, then your lawyer will also be able to advise you on the best course of action to take in order to achieve a favorable resolution. 

In addition, your lawyer can assist you with the process of filing a claim with a government agency like the EEOC. Alternatively, if you have already completed this step, then your lawyer can help you navigate the procedure for filing a private lawsuit with the appropriate court. 

Finally, if you need to appear before a judge or attend a formal meeting with your employer to negotiate a settlement arrangement, your lawyer will be able to provide legal representation in either of these scenarios as well.