Our attorneys are experienced in representing employees in claims for unpaid wages, including unpaid overtime. If you believe your employer is not paying you in accordance with the law, please contact us today. The tips below represent issues that we see arise again and again in these types of case. We hope you will find them useful. This is for informational purposes only, and does not constitute legal advice.
1. Know the basics. For most workers considered “non-exempt” under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the law requires that the employee must be paid “overtime” pay for all hours worked over 40 per week, at a rate not less than one and one-half times the regular rate of pay. In addition, FLSA requires payment of a “minimum wage” ($7.25 per hour, as of June 10, 2014). If you are working more than 40 hours per week, and not being paid overtime for this work; or if you are not being paid at least minimum wage, the law allows you to bring a civil suit in federal court to recover double all unpaid wages. Many attorneys, including our firm, are willing to take these cases on a contingency basis, because the law also allows attorneys to recover a reasonable fee for their work, if they prevail.
2. Record your hours worked. Your employer may not be keeping up with your actual hours worked. This may be because the employer has improperly classified you as a “salaried” or otherwise “exempt” employee. Your employer may also be calling you an “independent contractor” in order to avoid the obligations that an employer owes to his employees. Don’t let any of this deter you from keeping a record of the hours you actually work. You will strengthen your hand if you can produce a detailed record of the hours you’ve actually worked. You can use a notebook, a computer program, or whatever works for you to keep up with your time.
3. Keep track of any “off the clock” work. Another common wage and hour issue is employers requiring their employees to do work “off the clock,” for which they are not paid. However, in general, if you are working on-site, performing tasks for the benefit of your employer, you should be compensated for that time. Some examples of this includes “prep work” for your regular duties, such as preparing food to be cooked, filling out start-of-day paperwork, and time spent putting on any specialized uniform of equipment. Keep track of how much time you spend doing this work.
4. Remember: labels are not important. Many employers try to avoid overtime by telling their employees they are “exempt” from the Fair Labor Standards Act, either because they are paid a salary, because they are an “independent contractor,” or various other excuses. Oftentimes, employers will classify someone as a “manager” or a “supervisor,” even though the vast majority of their duties involve taking orders, and not giving them. Don’t take for granted the label placed on your job by the employer. The employer may not know what he or she is talking about, and he may even be intentionally shirking the law. A knowledgeable attorney can help you to decipher whether you are in fact entitled to overtime compensation.
5. Evaluate your duties. In general, if you spend most of your time working under the supervision of another, if you do not have significant discretion as to the manner and means of doing your job, or if your time is spent primarily doing manual labor, you should probably be classified as “non-exempt” from the overtime laws. You should be getting paid by the hour, and paid time-and-a-half for all hours worked over 40 per week. If you believe your employer is improperly denying you overtime pay, an experienced attorney can help you to evaluate whether your duties truly make you exempt or not.
6. Speak up! This is a tough one. Many employees are afraid to speak up at their workplaces because they fear retaliation. The law does forbid retaliation. Nonetheless, the fear remains. This is ultimately a choice you will have to make: to blow the whistle, or not? However, speaking up, and speaking to other employees, may have the benefit of helping you learn whether the employer is paying you according to the same rules as other employees. It can help you to gather information. And it may just lead the employer to correct the problem! If you have suffered retaliation as a result of objecting to the wage-and-hour practices of your employer, please contact us right away. The law is there to protect you.
7. Contact legal counsel sooner, rather than later. Most claims for unpaid overtime carry a two-year statute of limitations. Therefore, you should contact counsel without delay to determine if you are entitled to unpaid compensation. As time passes, you may be losing your right to back pay.
Dollar bill photo courtesy of photosteve101.