Fighting the Good Fight: What to Do When You Don’t Get Paid What They Owe You?


A surprising number of American workers regularly get short changed by their employers. Despite legal guarantees and federal and state scrutiny, even the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) asserts, “For millions of the country’s lowest-paid workers, financial security is even more fleeting because of unscrupulous employers stealing a portion of their paychecks.”

In their report on the 10 most populated states, the EPI found:

  • 4 million workers lose $8 billion annually.
  • That’s an average of $3,300 per year for year-round workers — nearly a quarter of their earned wages.
  • Wage theft affects 17 percent of low-wage workers,

You may need help fighting the good fight to secure your just wage and wages owed to you.

What to do when you don’t get paid what they owe you

When employers fail to pay workers according to federal and state law, it’s wage theft:

  • Paying less than minimum wage
  • Failing to pay overtime
  • Refusing to cover meal and rest breaks
  • Withholding service workers’ tips
  • Requiring work off the clock

If you have experienced any of these wrongs, you have rights that may require the support of a law firm for unpaid wages.

  1. Find out about your rights. In most states, employers must pay workers at least the minimum wage. Even if you get paid by commissions, piece rate, or day rate, the wages must at least equal the minimum wage for every hour worked.

Some communities have “living wage” regulations that set the wage higher than the minimum wage set by federal or state regulation.

2.Make a claim. You should file a claim at the local Labor Commissioner’s Office if you believe you are a victim of wage theft:

  • d wages for overtime
  • No pay for meal or rest breaks
  • Unreimbursed business expenses
  • Paychecks with insufficient funds
  • Illegal deductions from pay
  • Failure to receive a final check

Once you file a wage claim, you and your employer will be notified to meet for a settlement conference. If you don’t reach a settlement, the claim moves on to a hearing.

3.Call a lawyer. Unfortunately, the Labor Commissioner’s office is not staffed well enough to handle every claim that comes before it. They are required to process the claims as mandated by law.But, the office is left to focus on the biggest claims, the claims that widespread violations are going on in the workplace. And, that means you need legal advice and expertise to manage and pursue your wage theft claim.

Fighting the good fight

The New York Times reported, “. . . more companies are violating wage laws than ever before, pointing to the record number of enforcement actions they have pursued. . . . more employers — perhaps motivated by fierce competition or a desire for higher profits — are flouting wage laws.”

So, sometimes, you need help fighting the good fight. Sometimes, you just can’t fight the system alone.

If, for example, you are a minority worker, if English is not your first language, or if you are just unfamiliar with your rights and the claim process, you not only need legal advice but you also need it from the beginning.

You have the right to full compensation and more. You have the right to complain without retaliation. So, be sure you have the advice and protection from an experienced attorney from the start.