The Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division (WHD) is responsible for enforcing the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The most common remedy for wage violations is an order that an employer make up the difference between what the employee was paid and the amount he or she should have been paid. The difference is referred to as "back pay." Back wages may be ordered in cases under the FLSA.
The process of enforcement is described below, along with the different methods which the FLSA employs for recovering unpaid wages and overtime pay. For more information, see FindLaw's Wage and Hour Laws section.
Complaints and Investigations
The WHD conducts investigations as a part of its enforcement of the FLSA and many investigations are initiated by worker complaints.
All complaints are confidential. Your name and the nature of your complaint aren't disclosed. The only exception is when it's necessary to reveal your identity, with your permission, to pursue an allegation.
The type of information needed to file a complaint includes:
Additional information, such as copies of pay stubs, personal records of hours worked, or other information regarding the employer's pay practices, is helpful. The services WHD provides are free and confidential, whether or not you are documented. Importantly, your employer can't terminate you or otherwise discriminate against you in any way for filing a complaint with WHD.
Along with complaints, WHD selects certain types of businesses or industries for investigations. Sometimes, a number of businesses in a specific industry or region will be examined. An investigation consists of several steps:
Recovery of Back Wages
The following are the methods which the FLSA provides for recovering unpaid minimum wages and overtime wages:
Any employer who discharges or otherwise discriminates against any employee because the employee has filed a complaint may be liable for such appropriate relief as employment, reinstatement, or promotion. An employee can't bring a private suit if he or she has been paid back wages under the supervision of WHD or if the Secretary of Labor has already filed suit to recover the wages. Additionally, a 2-year statute of limitations applies to the recovery of back pay. However, in the case of a willful violation, a 3-year statute of limitations applies.
Employers who willfully violate the minimum wage or overtime laws are subject to civil penalties of up to $1,000 for each willful violation. Willful violations of the FLSA may result in criminal prosecution and the violator can be subject to a fine of up to $10,000. A second conviction may result in imprisonment.
If you believe you may be owed back wages collected by WHD, you may search the WHD's database of workers, and if you find that you are owed money, you can submit a claim.
Get a Free Initial Legal Assessment
Back pay and unpaid wages disputes can be highly contentious. A lawyer can help by arming you with knowledge of your rights and the enforcement mechanisms available in your situation. Contact a local attorney for a free initial legal assessment to learn how they can help you get paid what you are owed.