State and federal laws require employers to pay employees for the work they've performed. Employees must also be paid the correct amount they are due. A violation of laws relating to employees' wages, which shortchanges or doesn't allow them to be paid correctly or in full, is known as "wage theft." The U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division (WHD) is responsible for enforcing the Fair Labor Standards Act or FLSA. However, it is important to remember that wage laws passed by state governments and local counties and municipalities could also apply.
Can I Sue My Employer if They Don't Pay?
Yes, you can sue your employer if you have been underpaid. There is a process for doing so. First, you must submit a claim through WHD and wait for them to investigate the claim. They will then determine the validity of the claim and issue a legal order for your employer to pay you what you are owed.
Your employer should make up the difference between what you were paid and the amount you should have been paid. This difference is known as "back pay." If you are not successful in getting your money with a claim, you may want to consider suing your employer in small claims court or your local court.
Your ability to sue or recover unpaid wages could depend on a number of factors including:
- Whether you are an employee who is paid by the hour or exempt.
- If you make the federal minimum wage or state minimum wage.
- If you are an independent contractor.
- If you work a non-traditional workweek.
- If other employees who haven't been paid correct wages have banded together with a class action lawsuit against the employer.
- If you worked overtime hours.
Reporting Unpaid Wages and Recovering Back Pay
In order to file an unpaid wages claim, you will need to include your name, address, phone number, employer's name, location, names of managers and/or owners, the nature of your job and your salary. Any type of additional information such as copies of pay stubs, personal records of hours worked or other evidence of the employer's pay practices can also be helpful. The services provided by the WHD are free and confidential, regardless of whether you are a documented or legal employee. It is illegal for your employer to fire you or retaliate against you for filing a complaint with WHD.
What the Investigations Involve
A WHD investigation may involve a number of steps including a conference between a representative from the agency and representatives of the business (employer). It may also involve an examination of the records to determine which laws apply to the employer and their employees. In addition, investigators will look at payroll records and conduct private interviews with employees to verify payroll records. Once the investigation has concluded, the employer will be informed about whether violations have occurred. If there are violations, the employer will be ordered to rectify the violations and bay employees the back wages they are owed.
There are a number of ways in which FLSA could recover unpaid wages and overtime wages from employers. WHD may supervise the payment for back wages. In some cases, the Secretary of Labor may bring a lawsuit for back wages. An employee may also file a private employment lawsuit against an employer seeking back pay, attorney's fees, court costs and other damages. Employers who violate the minimum wage law or other wage and overtime laws are subject to penalties of up to $1,000 for each willful violation. Such violations could also result in criminal prosecution.
Contacting an Experienced Lawyer
If you have been a victim of wage theft, it would be in your best interest to contact an experienced unpaid wage attorney who can help you fight for your rights and hold your employer accountable. My firm, Kingsley and Kingsley Employment Lawyers has a long and successful track record of standing up for the rights of workers and helping them secure the damages they rightfully deserve. Call us today for a free, comprehensive and confidential consultation.