Wage and hour laws govern the basic standards for minimum wages and overtime pay in the workplace. The main wage and hour law is the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Among other things, the Act covers these main issues:
- Minimum Wage: FLSA sets standards for the wages paid to employees
- Overtime Pay: FLSA states when and who can receive overtime pay
- Child Labor Protection: The Act also has provisions protecting children from child labor
Employers are required to abide by the rules set out in the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Besides following FLSA standards, employers need to keep accurate records about the following:
- Other details related to their business
Failing to do so can result in legal consequences, and may result in wage and hour lawsuits filed by employees. Employers may also be required to follow state wage and hour laws, including different minimum wage requirements, in addition to the FLSA depending on where they are located, but some states do not have separate laws and rely only on federal laws.
What are Wage and Hour Lawsuits?
Wage and hour lawsuits involve disputes over the amount of wages an employee has earned, or the number of hours they have been working. In the past, employment issues like discrimination or harassment were the most common types of employment disputes. However, in recent years, wage and hour lawsuits have been making up the majority of employment law disputes filed each year. They are sometimes called wage and salary claims.
What Types of Legal Issues are Involved in Wage and Hour Lawsuits?
Wage and hour claims are often complex and may involve more than one type of legal issue. There is usually a reason or a motive as to why there is a dispute over the wages or hours of an employee. For instance, a typical wage and hour lawsuit can involve issues such as:
- Overtime pay and hours
- Vacation or medical leave
- Pregnancy leave
- Wrongful termination (for instance, failing to pay an employee their wages in connection with termination)
- Intentional violations such as harassment or discrimination against a worker
- Wage garnishment (this is often an issue with other issues like child support)
What are Some Common Lawsuits Involving Wage and Hour Claims?
Wage and hour claims are the most common type of employment lawsuits. Disability and discrimination claims are also common in labor disputes. Wage and hour issues typically involve an employer failing to pay employees minimum wage or overtime.
In less common cases, an employee may abuse work procedures and claim FLSA benefits that they aren’t entitled to. In general, most wage and hour law claims involve complaints against employers. Common issues involved in wage and hour lawsuits include:
- Minimum Wage: Not paying the employee the minimum wage as required by federal and state law.
- Exemptions: Certain categories of employees are exempt from overtime pay laws. This means that they are not entitled to overtime pay. Some employers make the mistake of classifying some or all their employees as exempt, when they really aren’t. Others wrongly classify employees to avoid paying them more, which is illegal.
- Job Title vs. Actual Duties Performed: Most FLSA provisions are based on the actual duties that the employee performs, rather than their job descriptions. This means that the exemptions are based on duties performed and not job titles. A common mistake for employers is to base the employee’s FLSA status on their job title rather than their duties.
- Working “Off the Clock”: FLSA violations can arise because not all companies operate according to a strict, 40-hour work week. Many businesses and employees are under “alternative weeks” (4 day work weeks or 10 hour days, etc.). Some employers don’t include business meetings as part of the “work day”.
- Withholding of Wages: These claims involve an employer wrongfully withholding an employee's payments. The reason for withholding wages must be illegal, such as discrimination, or in retaliation.
What If I Need to File a Wage and Hour Claim?
If you have a wage and hour dispute, you’ll probably need to file a claim with the Wage and Hour Division (WHD) of the U.S. Department of Labor first. The WHD division will conduct an investigation to determine if there are FLSA violations. If a violation is found, they may enforce penalties against the employer. Penalties may demand that employers adjust their labor policies.
If the Department of Labor is unable to provide you with the appropriate remedy, you may also file a private civil lawsuit against your employer. You may be entitled to receive a damages award for losses such as back pay. Employers are prohibited, by law, from firing an employee who makes a report about wage and hour disputes in the workplace.
How are Wage and Hour Disputes Proven?
Wage/hour disputes often require analysis of many different documents and statements. These can include:
- Pay stubs
- Work logs (input of clocking in/out, etc.)
- Tax papers
- Receipts and other documents
- Statements from other co-workers with same issues
What are Some Common Remedies in Wage and Hour Claims?
Most wage and hour claims result in a damages award that is issued from the employer to the worker. These are often sufficient to provide relief for losses caused to the employee. Generally, these damage awards cover the unpaid wages, plus other losses that may be related to the claim (such as lost profits on a deal, etc.). In addition, other remedies may include:
- Requirements that the employer change their payment and hour requirements
- Investigations into the company’s overall record-keeping practices
- Firing of a supervisor or manager
- Reinstatement of the worker back to their previous position (if they were also terminated in connection with a dispute)
Should I Get a Lawyer for Wage and Hour Claims?
Yes. Filing a wage and hour claim requires documentation and can sometimes be complex. You may need the help of an experienced employment lawyer to help file a claim with the Wage-Hour Division in your area. An employment attorney can help you get legal relief, and can represent you in court if a lawsuit arises.