Wage theft is common and, unfortunately, widespread in the U.S. According to the Economic Policy Institute, wage theft affects millions of employees, with minimum wage violations alone estimated to total $15 billion annually. Many workers might not even realize that their employers are exploiting them.
Wage theft is illegal, immoral, and unfair. However, you do not have to put up with it. As a worker, you have rights. If you wonder, “Can I sue for missing wages?” the answer could be yes.
Morgan & Morgan wants to help you reclaim the money that is legally yours. Our experienced employment attorneys are ready to fight for maximum compensation for workers who have experienced wage theft by unscrupulous employers. Contact us now for a free consultation to determine whether you could sue for missing wages.
What Is Wage Theft?
Wage theft can be soul-destroying for honest and hardworking individuals struggling to make ends meet. Moreover, employees may not even know that their employer is committing wage theft. For example, employees could be unaware that they are wrongly classified as independent contractors and lose out on benefits and protections. Some common forms of wage theft include but are not limited to:
Unless they are overtime-exempt, employees are entitled to paid overtime if they work over 40 hours in a week. Working overtime without getting paid is a form of wage theft. Unpaid overtime can be common in the hospitality industry and in-home health care.
Working “Off the Clock”
Working off the clock describes work activities that are not counted towards an employee’s paid hours. Employers should pay hourly workers for any time spent preparing for their job or cleaning up after their day’s work. For example, if a server spends time preparing the restaurant for the next day’s business without receiving pay, they work off the clock. Off the cock work can also include working through lunch and other breaks.
In some cases, employers misclassify employees as independent contractors. Misclassification can cost workers dearly. They may be missing wages, benefits, and protections such as workers’ compensation when injured. Moreover, independent contractors cannot claim unemployment benefits when fired. Businesses typically misclassify employees to save money and avoid paying payroll taxes.
Federal law does not obligate employers to offer breaks. However, short breaks of between five to 20 minutes count as compensable work hours. According to some state laws, employees are entitled to paid breaks. Breaks for which you should have received pay also count towards your hours worked. Therefore, unpaid breaks could take your total weekly hours above 40, and you might be owed money for overtime.
Paying Less Than the Legal Minimum Wage
Currently, the federal minimum wage stands at $7.25 an hour for most workers. Some states have enacted legislation requiring even higher minimum hourly wages. When an employer pays less than the hourly minimum wage, they commit wage theft and violate labor laws.
Stealing or Misappropriating Tips
Employers may credit tips towards the minimum wage, which is unlawful in some states. An employer could also pool tips and divide them between all employees, including untipped workers. Some employers simply steal the tips. All these practices are a form of illegal wage theft.
Not Getting Paid at All
If you are working for someone, whether a business or an individual, you must get paid for your time, including all hours and days worked. If your employer fails to pay you at all, you are experiencing the most blatant form of wage theft.
What You Can Do
If you are a victim of wage theft, you could receive damages such as back pay, commission, tips, and others. An employment lawyer from Morgan & Morgan can explain your legal options for getting justice.
You Could Have a Legal Case for Unpaid Wages
In some cases, you can sue for missing wages. You could have a case if an employer failed to pay you:
- The legal minimum wage in your state
- For “off the clock” work
- Break time provided by law
- Untaken vacation time
- Work-related travel time
However, missing wage claims can be complicated, and whether you can sue can depend on several factors, including the relevant state and federal laws. To determine whether you have a case, contact Morgan & Morgan today. You could be entitled to compensation for missing wages.
A Labor Attorney Could Help You Get Your Money Back
An employee could hold an employer accountable who violated wage and hour laws and committed wage theft. Contacting an attorney with experience in employment law can be critical as you could have various avenues for getting your money back. A lawyer can help determine the best course of action in your specific case.
Establish Whether You Have a Legal Case
Our labor attorneys can analyze your case and determine whether you can sue your employer. Importantly, we can also help you assess and calculate precisely how much money you are owed. Many victims of wage theft are not aware of how much money they are missing as they typically focus on the most apparent form of wage theft, such as unpaid overtime or off-the-clock work.
Identify All Your Options
Suing an employer may not be the only option for getting your money back. In the first instance, you could negotiate informally with your employer to determine if they are willing to reimburse you for missing wages. In some states, you can file a claim against your employer with the state’s labor department.
Collect Evidence to Build Your Case
To be successful with a lawsuit or claim, you will have to present appropriate evidence for the wage theft, which can be tricky to obtain. Our attorneys can gather and organize the relevant evidence proving that your employer withheld wages from you.
Standing up against your employer can feel overwhelming. Moreover, employers typically have the experience and resources to fight wage claims. A determined lawyer in your corner, fighting for what you are owed, can level the playing field and help you get what you deserve.