Guide to Claiming Unpaid Wages

One of the most fundamental reasons why we go to work each day is to earn a paycheck to help support ourselves and our families financially. State and federal laws mandate that you receive a minimum wage for all hours worked, and you may also be entitled to extra pay for each hour worked over 40 in a week. If you have unpaid wages, what are some steps that you can take to claim them?

Talk to Your Employer About the Issue

In some cases, an accounting oversight may be the reason why your paycheck is less than you expected it to be. It may be possible that you forgot to clock in for a shift or that your boss forgot to include the extra hours that you worked because the shift was offered at the last minute. Typically, pay issues can be resolved in a matter of minutes, and it may be possible to get the extra money that you entitled to right away.

What If My Employer Refuses to Pay Me?

If your employer refuses to pay you for any reason, it may be worthwhile to talk to an attorney. He or she may be able to work with your employer to compel payment without the need to go to court. In the event that informal talks don't resolve the issue, it may be necessary to file a lawsuit. A jury may award you both attorney costs and the unpaid wages that you seek, so you don't need to worry about legal fees standing in the way of pursuing justice.

What If Your Boss Didn't Approve Overtime Hours?

It is illegal to not pay a worker overtime rates if he or she works more than 40 hours a week. This is true whether or not the employer actually approved the overtime. Therefore, if you worked 48 hours in a week, you would be entitled to 150 percent of your normal wage for eight hours worked.

How Can I Prove That I Am Owed Money?

There are many different ways that you can prove that you are owed money from your employer. The easiest way may be to provide some record of when you punched in or punched out during each shift that you worked. While an employer may try to alter digital records, there will be evidence of such changes, which means that you may still be able to prove your unpaid wage claim. It may also be a good idea to get statements from colleagues or anyone else with the company who can vouch for the fact that you were not paid for all the hours that you worked.

Can Employers Defer My Compensation?

If you agree to have some or all of your compensation deferred to a later date, you may not get paid for all hours worked when you work them. However, this is different than not being paid at all. Typically, there is a written agreement as it relates to how compensation will be deferred and when you will get the money.

It is also illegal for employers to move hours worked from one pay period to another. This may be done to make it look like the 50 hours that you worked in one week were actually accrued over the course of two weeks. Ultimately, it is an attempt by an employer to avoid paying overtime, and that is also illegal under state and federal wage laws.

What If I Wasn't Given Breaks or Meal Periods?

While you are generally not paid for meal periods, you are usually entitled to one or two paid breaks during your shift. If you are denied those breaks, you may have a claim under state or federal wage laws. You may also have a claim if you are denied your lunch or meal period.

If you have a claim to unpaid wages, it may be a good idea to talk with an attorney. Legal counsel may be able to help you pursue an informal claim against an employer or help you take your employer to court. In addition to back wages paid with interest, you may be entitled to punitive damages or other relief as deemed appropriate by a jury.

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