The U.S. Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division, requires employers to pay wages in an accurate and timely manner. The state can have wage laws that include when wages should be paid. Employers are required to establish a regular payday, such as weekly, biweekly or semimonthly; therefore, failure to pay wages on time is a violation of federal and state law. As an employee, you can take steps to remedy this situation.

Speak with Employer

If you have been underpaid – or have not received any wages – on payday, speak with your employer. It’s possible an error was made during payroll processing, or if you have direct deposit, it could be an issue with your bank. Give your employer a chance to correct the problem before taking further action. If your employer made the mistake and caused you to incur bank fees, it might be willing to pay you wages due plus applicable charges.

Wage Claim

If your employer refuses to pay you wages due, file a wage claim with the U.S. Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division, or your state labor department. In the latter case, follow the procedures for filing a wage claim with the state. You can access the guidelines via the state labor department website or by calling the agency. The agency will inform your employer of your claim and give it a chance to respond. If your employer disputes your claim, the state will schedule a hearing for you and your employer to attend. If the judge agrees with your claim, she can order your employer to pay you back wages, liquidated damages and, depending on the state, a waiting penalty of up to 30 days. Liquidated damages can equal the amount of your unpaid wages and are also called double back pay

Court Action

You can pursue a lawsuit in small claims court if you do not file a wage claim. This method is particularly effective for collecting pay that a wage claim might not cover, such as vacation and holiday pay. Check with your state for its claim limit before you file a small claims lawsuit. If necessary, hire an employment lawyer. The court can order your employer to pay you back wages, damages and attorney/court costs.


Federal law allows you up to two years to file for back wages and three years if your employer intentionally violated the law. If you are a terminated employee, check with your state labor department for its final paycheck laws. The state might require payment immediately upon separation or by the next regularly scheduled payday.