What Can I Do If My Employer Owes Me Back Pay?

If you have discovered that you are owed money when you look through your next paycheck, the chances are it will be a simple administrative error.

However, wage theft is a very real experience in the U.S. and you will need to act as soon as you can if your employer owes you back pay.

The usual reasons for underpayment of a wage include not counting all the hours you worked, undervaluing the hourly rate, not counting hours over 40 in a week as overtime and making deductions which are not permitted.

Wage theft is any kind of deliberate underpayment of wages, i.e. when an employer tries to save money by not paying you the right amount.

Incredible as it might seem, this is actually more common than you might think. Some employers hope that you don’t notice the underpayment, or are too intimidated to ask about it.

Although most employees on hourly wages are employed on at-will terms, i.e. employers can terminate an employee’s job whenever they want, there are still laws on wage theft.

Employers must pay at least the minimum wage. They must pay overtime and there are restrictions on what sort of deductions can be made from a paycheck.

How to Recover Your Back Pay

If you think you have been underpaid, you should check through your past paystubs carefully and also read through your employment agreement if you had one when you first started work.

Check your state’s minimum wage entitlement. The federal minimum is still $7.25 an hour, but many states have higher minimums. Employers must pay the highest of either the state or federal minimum hourly wage at least.

If you have done any overtime, check to see that you have been paid at time and a half for any hours over 40 in any 7 day week.

For example, if you normally earn $9 an hour, but have worked 8 hours overtime in the last week, you should get $13.50 x 8 = $108 before tax for the overtime hours alone.

Check to see if you have had any deductions which don’t make sense or hadn’t been included on previous paychecks.

When you have done all the math and it still doesn’t add up, go and see your HR department or whoever it is that deals with your pay and get them to explain the discrepancy.

It’s a good idea to put your query into writing and ask for a written response. Then you at least have some evidence in addition to your paystubs and agreement if you have one in case you decide to file a complaint or take legal action to recover back pay you think you are entitled to.

If the error is resolved to your satisfaction, then that’s all well and good. If you do not get a satisfactory response and your employer refuses to pay you what you think you are owed, then you can file a complaint with the Wages and Hours Division of the Department of Labor (DoL).

Wage theft is prohibited according to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Once you have filed a complaint, the Labor Commissioner will appoint someone to investigate the complaint.

This may involve a mediation session with someone from your employer. The DoL has the power to order your employer to pay any back pay due plus an additional amount equal to the amount of back pay, as well as fine the employer if a violation of the FLSA is proven.

The DoL may take the employer to court or give you permission to sue your employer with the help of an employment lawyer through a civil court.

When back pay is calculated, it will be the amount of pay that you are entitled to but weren’t paid. If you have been underpaid for a lengthy period, then you will need evidence of the underpayment to have a reasonable chance of recovering the full amount you are owed.

Get Help With Your Back Pay

It is a sensible idea to talk to an employment lawyer if you have discovered that you have been underpaid and haven’t had any success convincing your employer to pay you what you are owed.

The lawyer will be able to assess or case and discuss your legal options, including filing a complaint with the DoL and/or taking legal action directly against your employer based on a violation of the FLSA.

You are welcome to use the free case evaluation form available below to find a suitable lawyer in your area.

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