The rights of employees in the United States are protected by both state and federal laws. These laws entitle most employees to a minimum hourly rate of pay, and most states have laws that require your employer to pay you on certain specified paydays. Employers who violate payroll laws may face sanctions from state and federal authorities. Additionally, you have the right to file a lawsuit against your employer.


Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, most workers in the United States are entitled to a federal minimum wage, although some office workers and managers are exempt from the FLSA's minimum wage and overtime requirements. Many states have their own minimum wage laws, and employers must pay nonexempt employees the higher of the state and the federal minimum wage. If you work more than 40 hours in a week, your employer must pay you an overtime rate of 150 percent of your standard hourly rate. Furthermore, regardless of your exempt or nonexempt status, you have a right to receive wages for the hours that you work.


If your employer does not pay you at all or underpays you, then you should ask your employer to pay you the outstanding wages. In some instances, employers make clerical errors that lead to employees being underpaid and you can potentially save yourself a lot of paperwork by resolving the issue with your boss. Your employer cannot refuse to pay you simply because you failed to log your hours worked on a time sheet. Federal laws require employers to maintain payroll records and in states such as California, you have the right to regularly review these records. Therefore, you and your boss can easily resolve the issue by reviewing your payroll records.

Filing a Complaint

If your employer refuses to settle your wage dispute, then you can file a claim with either your state's labor department or with the local office of the Wage and Hour Division of the federal Department of Labor. In some states such as Wisconsin, you cannot file such a dispute until six days have passed since you asked your employer to pay your unpaid wages. Furthermore, you must file complaints as soon as you can because many states have a statute of limitations on wage claims. In Wisconsin, you must file claims within two years of the unpaid work. State employment offices work alongside the federal Wage and Hour Division on labor disputes, so you do not need to file a complaint at both the state and federal level.


In the state of New York, employers who violate wage laws can face up to 15 years in jail while employers facing prosecution under federal law can face fines of $10,000 for each offense and repeat offenders can face jail time. If the state and federal authorities investigate your case but side with your employer, then you can pursue your boss in civil court. Limits on compensation claims in civil court vary from state to state. However, neither government prosecutors nor civil court authorities can guarantee payment of wages if your employer becomes insolvent or lacks the necessary funds to pay your wages.