Employees who are denied required minimum wage and overtime pay can recover the wages they're owed by learning how to report wage and hour violations. The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires that employers pay at least the federal minimum wage, as well as "time and a half" overtime pay for employees working more than 40 hours a week. If an employer fails to meet these requirements, an employee or third-party complaint can result in workers receiving back pay for the wages they were wrongly denied.
Claims of "wage theft" increased tremendously in the 21st century, with federal and state officials claiming that more companies are violating wage laws than ever before. In California, the state recovered more than $1 billion in unpaid wages between 2010 and 2014. In 2013, the federal Department of Labor pursued more than 24,000 violation cases, leading employees to recover almost $170 million in back wages.
Why File a Report?
If you haven't received minimum wage or overtime pay and are an employee covered by the FLSA, you may consider filing a complaint for wage and hour violations. As of July 2015, the federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. However, many states have state minimum wage requirements that are higher than the federal minimum. An employer is responsible for paying whichever minimum is highest.
Similarly, the FLSA requires that employers pay "time and a half" overtime when an employee works more than 40 hours in a work week. Take, for example, a worker making $9.00 an hour and working 50 hours a week. This employee would be entitled to overtime pay for ten hours he or she worked beyond 40 hours that week. Overtime pay must be at least one and a half times the hourly rate, or $13.50 an hour, in this case.
Employees who recover back wages include cashiers whose overtime hours aren't accurately reported on their paycheck and cooks being paid less than minimum wage. Workers who have been paid lump sums but worked many hours have been able to recover when their hourly rate didn't meet the minimum wage. So too have employees who have been misclassified as independent contractors and denied overtime pay.
Filing a Wage and Hour Complaint
If you believe you or someone you know has been denied proper wages under the FLSA, you may file a complaint by mail or in person at an office of the Wage and Hour Division (WHD) of the Department of Labor. In the complaint you will need to include the following information:
After a complaint is filed, the WHD reviews the complaint and conducts an investigation, helping the employee recover back wages. The WHD will contact the complainant if more information is needed for them to pursue the allegation.
The names of employees who file complaints are kept confidential and an employer can't fire or otherwise discriminate against an employee who participates in a legal proceeding under the FLSA.
Complaints can be filed by third parties on behalf of an employee who has been denied proper wages. If a third party is making the complaint, the WHD suggest preparing extra information beforehand.
Many states have additional protections for workers, including higher minimum wages and overtime pay for any day's work beyond eight hours. Often, wage and hour complaints also may be filed with state agencies.
Statute of Limitations
The earlier you file a complaint the better. The FLSA has a statute of limitations of two years (three years for willful violations), meaning that you may only recover back wages claimed less than two years after an action is filed. The WHD recommends filing no later than 18 months after the violation occurred. The statutes of limitations for state laws vary, but reporting a violation as early as possible is often recommended.
Free Legal Evaluation of Your Wage and Hour Law Concerns
A skilled lawyer can help you understand your rights under state and federal wage and overtime laws and may be able to help you pursue wages that have been wrongly withheld. If you have questions about your wages and hourly pay, contact an experienced employee rights attorney to discuss your situation. If you're not exactly sure what your legal needs are (don't worry, you're not alone), have an employment law attorney evaluate your situation for free.