You work hard for your money. But, what do you do if you’re not seeing the fruit of your labors in your paycheck? That’s what some employees are wondering after they’ve worked extra hours but not been paid for them. Wage theft lawsuits are cropping up around the country against employers like Chipotle, McDonald’s, Hardee’s, and Carl’s Jr.
Wage theft is when an employee is denied wages or benefits that he or she is rightfully owed. This could happen in several ways, including illegal deductions, employee misclassification as an independent contractor, minimum wage violations, or failure to receive overtime pay (in other words, not getting paid for hours worked). Laws can vary from state to state. It can also include pressuring an injured worker not to file a Workers’ Compensation claim. Studies have shown that this can cost US workers billions of dollars each year, and it violates the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act.
Often, wage theft is experienced by workers who earn minimum wage or by those who are not citizens of the U.S. Some of the most highly publicized wage theft law violations are reported against fast-food chain Chipotle. There are nearly 10,000 workers who claim that they are not getting paid for hours worked. Laws are in place to prevent this, but according to the lawsuit, although these workers are paid hourly, they cannot leave work until they have permission to do so. They are not being paid for the time that they worked past their specific number of hours. Often, a Chipotle will automatically clock workers out at a specific time when the restaurant has closed. However, the allegation is that when they have stayed late to clean up or prepare for the next day’s business, they are not being paid for that additional time.
In 2016, McDonald’s agreed to pay $1.75 million in back pay and damages to about 800 employees who claimed that they were not paid overtime, accurate records were not maintained, and they were not reimbursed for time spent cleaning uniforms. If you think that you’ve been in a situation like this one, you might need a lawyer for unpaid wages.
Often, the people who need an employee rights attorney the most are the last ones to get assistance. Undocumented workers tend to be likely to be subject to not getting paid for hours worked. Laws that are in place to protect workers might be perceived as unavailable, and these workers are hesitant to speak out because of the risks of deportation.
You might need an employee rights attorney if one of the following applies to you:
Overtime: Non-exempt employees are entitled to time and a half if they work over 40 hours per week under the Fair Labor Standards Act. While there are exceptions, there are ongoing issues with employees not getting paid for hours worked. Laws tend to be violated the most in child care, stock and office, home health care, personal care (beauty), dry cleaning, and general repair workers’ industries.
Status as independent contractor: An independent contractor does not get minimum wage, overtime, insurance, or other employee rights because that person works on a contract basis, which is as neither a salaried nor hourly “permanent” employee. But, some wage theft cases hinge on employers’ having misclassified an employee as an independent contractor. The differences between an employee and a contractor are the permanency of employment and the individual’s degree of control over the engagement. If you’re working or have worked on a long-term project as an independent contractor, it might be useful to determine whether you are, in fact, a contractor, or if you should be entitled to the benefits that an employee would receive. While this involves different circumstances than not getting paid for hours worked, laws about how employers should be taxed and what insurance they need to be maintaining could be at issue.
There are other ways in which wage theft law could be violated, like illegal deductions and an employer pressuring an employee not to file for Workers’ Compensation insurance. The most common form of wage theft law violations, though, is not getting paid for hours worked. Laws are in place to protect you—the employee—and you might need a lawyer for unpaid wages if you’ve worked overtime, worked through a break, or through meal times without being paid.
If you’re wondering how to report wage theft and don’t know where to begin, a lawyer for unpaid wages can help. If you want to file a claim so that it’s on record, the place to start would be the U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division (WHD). It has a toll-free help line and specific instructions for how to report wage theft. If you’re not sure that this applies to you, or if you believe that you have been subject to illegal employer practices in another way, it could be time to contact an employee rights attorney. Noble McIntyre and his experienced team can work with you not just with respect to wage theft law, but other aspects to employment rights, as well. For a free consultation with a lawyer for unpaid wages, contact McIntyre Law today.