I hear almost daily from employees whose employers don’t pay them properly, and in most cases it’s a custom and practice of the employer, not a one-time thing. Employees lose lots of income this way. They’ll have you do prep work before clocking in or after clocking out. They’ll give you laptops and smartphones, and see you working from home, on vacation, and on nights and weekends, but don’t pay you for that. They’ll claim you’re in one of the special categories that makes you ineligible for overtime, a common tactic that causes huge pay losses for employees. Or they’ll just pay your regular hourly rate, not time-and-a-half, when you work more than forty hours in a week.
In the last several days I talked to one employee who is told to clock out but to “hang around until more customers show up.” She works at a place where customers tend to show up in waves. In between, there isn’t much to do. So the boss tells workers to clock out when it gets slow, but he won’t let them leave the workplace even though they’re not getting paid. I talked to another employee whose bosses don’t pay overtime to anyone, no matter what.
Employees in both places suffer huge wage losses, and what their employers are doing is clearly illegal. The rule is simple. You must be paid for all time devoted to your employer. Requiring employees to work without pay is always unlawful. But many employers still do.
If your employer is depriving you and others of pay, the law has some powerful weapons waiting for you. First, you can recover unpaid wages and overtime as far back as three years. That means as of today you could recover lost income back to July 2011. It doesn’t matter if you still work there or not. Second, you can file suit immediately; there is no waiting period. Third, you’re entitled to all unpaid wages, all unpaid overtime, and if the employer’s violation is intentional, you can ask for a doubling of the amount you’re owed. By example, if your employer owes you $1,000.00, you can seek $2,000.00. If you’re owed $10,000.00, you can seek $20,000.00. And so on. When I sue for wage and hour violations, I also usually require that the employer pay my fees and costs, so our clients can keep the full amounts owed them. You don’t need scientific proof of your hours. Courts understand that if you worked off the clock, there won’t be records to show it. Courts permit employees to testify without records that they averaged a certain number of hours a week in overtime, or worked an average of X hours a day off the clock.
In one case I handled, a group of employees who no longer worked for the company, and who had no records at all, each testified that they were required to work about an hour a day after clocking out. With a three-year “look-back” period and a doubling of their claims, they recovered between $15,000.00 and $40,000.00 each.
Your employer is probably violating federal and state wage laws:
– If your are requested or required to work “off the clock;”
– If your employer alters your time sheet to below 40 hours per week, even though you worked overtime;
– If you are automatically clocked out for breaks and lunch, whether you take them or not, or if you work through lunch even when told not to;
– If you are denied overtime because it was not approved in advance by your manager or supervisor even though you worked those hours;
– If you are only paid your regular hourly wage for overtime without additional compensation;
– If you are told to put your hours down on the following week or granted comp time for your overtime hours instead of overtime pay;
– If you are not paid for getting ready for work or for cleaning up your work space after work, even though it is a requirement of the job;
– You are paid less than the minimum wage.
– If you are not being paid for waiting time. Waiting time counts as hours worked when your time is controlled by the employer and you are unable to use the time effectively for your own activities.
There is nothing worse than working for an employer that doesn’t play fair with its payroll. If your employer falls into this category, don’t be shy about taking action. You have some incredibly powerful tools at your fingertips.