May 15, 2024

How Long Do I Have to File a Lawsuit for Unpaid Wages?

How Long Do I Have to File a Lawsuit for Unpaid Wages - unpaid wages

A hard day’s work can be rewarding, but what happens if an employer or business partner fails to pay what you’re owed?

If you believe your employer has failed to pay your agreed wage or overtime, you can file a lawsuit to recover your unpaid earnings. However, there is a limited amount of time to file your lawsuit, known as the statute of limitations. Once this time limit has passed, you will no longer be able to file.


How Does the Statute of Limitations Work?

According to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), you typically have a two-year window to file a lawsuit following a wage violation. If the violation has been ongoing, you can only claim unpaid wages for the two years preceding the filing of your claim. 

The statute of limitations is extended to three years in cases where the violation of the FLSA by your employer is deemed willful, like if the employer was aware that their actions were prohibited by the FLSA or if the employer demonstrated reckless disregard for whether their actions were in violation of the FLSA. Beyond the Federal minimum statute, some states may have their own statute of limitations. 


Wage Claims, Lawsuits, and Time Limits

When considering how to move forward with unpaid wages, you may first choose to file a wage claim with the Department of Labor before moving forward with an actual lawsuit. A wage claim and an unpaid wage lawsuit are related but differ in their formal processes and the extent of legal involvement. 

A wage claim typically refers to a formal complaint or request made by an employee to a government agency, such as the Department of Labor, or a labor board, about unpaid wages, withheld pay, or other wage-related issues. It is often an administrative process where the agency investigates the claim and may attempt to mediate between the employee and the employer to resolve the matter. Wage claims are usually less formal and involve government intervention to resolve the dispute outside of court.

An unpaid wage lawsuit, on the other hand, involves taking legal action directly against the employer through the court system. This usually occurs when a resolution cannot be reached through the administrative process or when the dispute is of a more complex or serious nature. Filing an unpaid wage lawsuit typically involves hiring an attorney and initiating a formal legal proceeding. This process often requires more evidence, legal arguments, and adherence to the court's procedures.

If you plan to firstly file a wage claim for your unpaid wages, however, it’s very important that you file your claim well before the two-year statute of limitations expires—if not immediately. That way, you will still have enough time to file a lawsuit if you are not able to resolve your claim through the Department of Labor’s administrative process. 

In many states, you can also file a wage claim at the state level.


Do I Need a Lawyer for Unpaid Wages?

If you are owed unpaid wages, it might be in your best interest to consult with an employment lawyer.

At Morgan & Morgan, our employment lawyers can help identify all of the wage laws that your employer has violated, some of which you may not even be aware, and can help you file a wage claim or lawsuit well before any deadlines. With over 35 years of experience, we have recovered over $20 billion for our clients, and we may be able to help your case. Contact us today for a free, no-obligation case evaluation.