Unpaid wages claims are claims that are brought by an employee against their employer when the employer has not paid all of the wages earned by the employee. In short, an employee’s wages are based on the number of hours that an employee works multiplied by their hourly rate of pay.

The Federal Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) is the federal law that regulates and requires employers to pay employees appropriately for all time worked. The FLSA also includes the right for employees to receive a minimum wage, as well as requiring employers to pay employees overtime pay for any time worked over 40 hours in a work week.

In addition to federal laws, there are various state laws that also regulate and require an employer to pay a certain minimum wage or overtime pay. State laws often provide more protections for employees for wage and hour disputes, including a higher minimum wage or setting time limits within which an employee must be paid when a wage and hour dispute is made. Thus, it is important to know not only the federal laws on unpaid wages, but also your local state laws on the subject.

What Are Minimum Wage Violations?

As noted above, the Fair Labor Standards Act created a federal right to a minimum wage. A minimum wage violation occurs when an employer does not pay an employee the federally required minimum hourly wage. As of June 2020, the federal minimum wage is set at $7.25 per hour, which has been the federal minimum wage since 2009. Once again, state or city laws may require a higher minimum wage than the federal standard.

If you did not receive the required minimum wage, you may be able to collect unpaid wages from your employer. For example, if you were paid $6.75 an hour for 10 weeks, you can make an unpaid wages claim against your employer for the difference of $.50 per hour ($7.25 – $6.75) for 400 hours (40 hours x 10 weeks), which is a total of $200.00.

Once again, if your state or local jurisdiction requires a higher minimum wage, such as the $13 per hour minimum wage in California for employers with over 26 employees, then you can make an unpaid wages claim for the difference between that minimum wage and the wage you were actually paid. For example, if you were only paid $6.75 per hour for 10 weeks in California, you may make an unpaid wages claim for $2,500.00 ($6.25 x 400 hours).

Another common minimum wage violation by employers is failing to pay an employee that receives tip the minimum wage. Importantly, employees who regularly receive tips may be paid a lower minimum wage, so long as they earn enough tips to make the minimum wage for each hour they work. Thus, an employer may pay you $3.00 per hour, as long as after tips, you make the required $7.25 per hour federal minimum wage.

As a tipped employee, you must still make the federally required or state required minimum wage. If you did not make enough tips to reach the federal minimum wage, then your employer must pay you the difference. If the employer fails to pay you the difference, then you may make an unpaid wages claim against them.

What Are Other Common Violations of Wage Laws?

In addition to failing to pay an employee for time worked or failing to pay an employee the required minimum wage, employers may also violate hourly wage laws in other ways. Common violations of wage laws may also include the following:

  • Failing to pay an employee for time worked off the clock (i.e. requiring an employee to work before or after clocking in without pay);
  • Failing to pay an employee for paid meal and rest breaks;
  • Failing to pay an employee for required training classes;
  • Failing to pay an employee earned bonuses or commissions;
  • Making unauthorized deductions from an employee’s paycheck, such as for business expenses;
  • Failing to pay an employee for required periods of travel;
  • Withholding overtime pay from an employee; or
  • Withholding salary or failing to pay an employee on time for work performed. Once again, the state you work in may set the time frame in which you need to be paid by. In most states, an employee must generally be paid at least bi-weekly.

How Do I Make an Unpaid Wages Claim?

The Fair Labor Standards Act is enforced by the Wage and Hour Division (“WHD”) of the Department of Labor. If you believe that your employer has not paid you the wages you are entitled to, you may contact your local Wage and Hour Division office. After contacting the local WHD office, they will investigate your employer and the documents you submitted (pay stubs, work logs, tax documents, etc.) and determine whether or not they have violated the law.

If the employer is found to have violated the FLSA, the Labor department may initiate a civil lawsuit against the employer for payment of the employee’s unpaid wages, as well as liquidated damages, if the employer is found to have willfully violated the law. If the employee is not satisfied with the results of the investigation, they may then bring a private civil lawsuit against their employer for payment of all unpaid wages, liquidated damages, and attorney fees.

Once again, there are state laws regarding unpaid wages claims. For example, in Texas, an employee would file a claim for unpaid wages with the Texas Workforce Commission (“TWC”). The TWC would then conduct an investigation into the employer, determine if they violated local wage laws, and then help the employee recover any wages owed.

Alternatively, an employee may also bring a private civil lawsuit against their employee based on violation(s) of state wage laws. There are various requirements as to when an unpaid wages claim must be brought; therefore it is very important that you bring your claim for unpaid wages as soon as possible.

Do I Need an Attorney for Unpaid Wages Claims?

If you believe that your employer has violated federal or state wage laws, you should first immediately contact your human resources department to attempt to resolve your issue. If the human resources department is unable to assist you in recovering your lost wages, you should then contact the federal or state department responsible for enforcing the wage laws in your area.

If the federal or state departments are unable to assist in recovering your lost wages, then it is in your best interests to consult with a well qualified and knowledgeable employment law attorney in your area. An experienced employment law attorney will be able to help you gather up the required evidence necessary to prove your unpaid wages claim, as well as initiate a civil lawsuit against your employer for unpaid wages. Finally, an attorney will be able to represent you in court at any necessary hearings.