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The U.S. Department of Labor administers the federal wage and hour laws. Each state has a department of labor, which enforces the state wage and hour laws. Both the federal and state labor departments require employers to pay wages due in a timely and accurate manner. You can take certain steps if your employer fails to do this.
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Your wages include all payment due to you for services rendered, such as regular and overtime wages. Though employers are not legally required to give paid vacation, sick and personal time, and holidays, if the employer chooses to, the payment is considered wages. The difference between the wages you received and what you are owed is called back pay.
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If your employer owes you wages, try to resolve the matter between the both of you. The unpaid wages could be due to a processing error the payroll department made. Give your employer a chance to correct the error before taking drastic actions. If you get paid via direct deposit, it’s possible your bank made the mistake. In both cases, either party may be willing to assume charges you incurred as a result.
If your employer refuses to pay you wages and you cannot resolve the matter between you, contact your state labor department for its procedures on filing a wage claim. Procedures vary by state, so ensure you follow your state’s policies. For example, the Missouri Division of Labor requires you to call or email them if you feel you are not being properly compensated. The Indiana Department of Labor allows you file a wage claim online. The Colorado Department of Labor acts a mediator between you and your employer. It cannot order your employer to pay unpaid wages, but can give you alternatives, such as filing a lawsuit in court. If your wage claim concerns unpaid wages under federal law, such as if you did not receive at least the federal minimum wage, you can file a wage claim with your local U.S. Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division. If you win a wage claim, your employer may be required to pay you the amount due within 30 days of the decision; however, time frames may vary.
Depending on the amount, you can file a complaint in small claims court to recover unpaid wages. Small claims court usually limits the amount you can recover; the amount varies by state. You can hire an attorney and file a private lawsuit, in which case the court can order your employer to pay you unpaid wages and liquidated damages, plus attorney costs. Do not take too long to file a wage claim. Under federal law, the statute of limitations for filing a lawsuit in court is within 2 years of the violation and within 3 years if your employer purposely violated the law. Your state may have a different time frame.
Grace Ferguson has been writing professionally since 2009. With 10 years of experience in employee benefits and payroll administration, Ferguson has written extensively on topics relating to employment and finance. A research writer as well, she has been published in The Sage Encyclopedia and Mission Bell Media.