Most states have minimum wage laws which determine how much employers must pay their workers. Employers may pay more than the statutory minimum wage but not less. Even if you work I a state with no minimum wage laws, your employer must still pay the federal minimum wage which is currently $7.25 an hour. In fact, your employer must pay whatever is the higher of the two minimum wages (state or federal) at least.
If you are not being paid at least the minimum wage, you should clarify this with HR or whoever is in charge of your pay. There may be a genuine discrepancy which can be easily sorted out. However, if HR refuses to do anything about it, or you are still being paid less than the minimum, then this represents a violation of both state and federal minimum wage legislation. You are entitled to file a complaint with the Department of Labor.
Wage Theft is a Violation of State and Federal Labor Laws
When an employer does not pay the correct wage, or does not pay the minimum wage, then this is called wage theft. The federal government’s Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) makes it quite clear that all employers must pay their employees at least the minimum wage. Most states have similar laws although the minimum wage in each state may be different from each other and from the federal minimum. Because not paying you the minimum wage is a violation of the FLSA or state labor laws you have the right to pursue a complaint and, if necessary sue your employer. Here are some steps you can take.
Keep Track of All Communication With Your Employer
It is important that you have made the attempt to ask your employer why you are not being paid the minimum wage. Just as important is that you should have evidence that you approached your HR department or whoever is in charge of your paycheck. It is worth putting your query in writing (it could be an email or on paper) as well as going to see the HR personnel in person.
- Keep any correspondence that you send to the HR department.
- Make a note of the time and date that you go to see the HR personnel in person.
- Make a note of what they say to you. If they give you a response in writing or by email then this should be kept if it is a refusal to pay you the minimum wage.
- Make a note of any follow up you make after the initial interaction with HR, especially if they say that they will correct the error, but in fact fail to do so.
Gathering Evidence of Wage Theft
If you file a complaint about the wage theft that you believe has occurred, you would normally do this with the Wages and Hours Division at the Department of Labor office nearest to you. Because not paying the minimum wage is a violation of state and federal labor laws, like the FLSA, they have the responsibility to investigate your complaint. You should provide evidence of your complaint to the DoL when you submit your complaint form.
The forms of evidence you should supply as a minimum include all the communication you have had with your employer about not paying the minimum wage as given above. Also you should supply:
- pay stubs showing hours worked and your pay which should state what your hourly wage was;
- a copy of your employment agreement if you have one.
Once your complaint form with evidence of your pay and attempts to resolve the complaint have been received, an official from the Wages and Hours Division should contact your employer to find out whether your complaint is justified. The DoL has the authority to make your employer pay the correct wage, fine your employer or even charge your employer with a criminal offense if it has happened before. Note that your employer is not legally able to fire you just because you have filed a complaint about a wage theft violation.
Speak With an Attorney
If your complaint is not resolved satisfactorily with the DoL, you should contact an employment attorney. An attorney can help you file a lawsuit against your employer to make the pay any lost wages as well as court fees and attorney’s fees.