If you haven’t been paid all the money you’ve earned at work, you might have a legal claim against your employer under state or federal wage and hour law. The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) protects your right to earn at least the federal minimum wage, to be paid for every hour worked, to keep your tips, and to limit deduction from your paycheck, in certain circumstances. However, states are free to pass laws that provide additional protections for employees, and many states have done so.
Minimum wage violations
Employees must be paid at least the minimum wage for each hour they work. You are entitled to the highest applicable minimum wage where you work, whether that’s the federal, state, or local rate. For example, California’s minimum wage of $10 is higher than the federal minimum wage of $7.25, so you are entitled to the state minimum wage while working in the state.
To calculate to unpaid minimum wage claim, simply take the difference between what you were actually paid per hour and what you should have been paid per hour, and then multiply that amount by the total number of hours you worked.
It’s a wage violation to fail to pay for every hour worked. Employers violate this rule by not counting certain time as work, including:
- Required training programs and classes
- Time employees have to work “off the clock”, before clocking in or after clocking hour for the day
- Waiting time the employee must spend on the employer’s premises
- Meal or rest breaks that employees have to work through
- Travel time
State laws on paydays and final paychecks
The FLSA doesn’t require employers to pay employees on a certain day or within a certain time limit, but many states do. Some states require employees to be paid within a certain date of performing the work for which they are being compensated. Know the rules of your state on paydays and final paychecks to determine whether you have an unpaid wage claim.
State laws on vacation time
Employers aren’t legally required to give their employees paid vacation time. However, employers that choose to offer this benefit may be subject to state laws on cashing out this time. Know the policies of your employer to determine whether you have an unpaid wage claim.
State laws on tips and paycheck deductions
The rules on what employer may require an employee to pay for vary by state. Contact your state labor department to find out what rules your state follows. State laws also vary on tips. Generally speaking, tips belong to the employee who receives them. Know the tip credit rules in your state to avoid conflict of interests.
What to do if you have an unpaid wage claim
If you believe your employer has violated state or federal wage laws on paying you, raise the issue internally. Inform the HR or payroll department of the problem, depending on your company’s procedures for bringing concerns to the attention of the management.
If your complaint is not acted upon, consider consulting with an employment lawyer. The lawyer will tell you whether to file a wage claim with a state agency or to file a lawsuit in court.
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