How federal law protects your right to overtime pay

Every industry has busier times than others where they may need you to step in and work extra hours. While many states and the federal government have laws on the books that require employers to pay their workers fair overtime, that doesn’t necessarily ensure that they will. Many employers engage in “wage theft,” thinking that no one will ever catch them doing it. 

Knowing your rights and the law can help you avoid being a victim of wage theft.

What is wage theft, and how big of an issue is it?

One statistic published in 2013 by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) shows how the federal agency recovered an estimated $170 million on behalf of improperly paid workers that year. DOL data shows that most of these employers engaged in wage theft or neglecting to pay their workers overtime when appropriate. 

How does federal law treat overtime?

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is federal legislation that dictates how employers must pay their workers the established federal minimum wage for any hours they work. There is one exception to this rule. An employer must pay their worker the state minimum wage if it’s higher than the federal one. 

FLSA also requires employers to pay their employees overtime pay, which equates to time and a half, if they work for more than 40 hours during a single week. 

What should you do if your employer failed to pay you overtime?

You should keep a close eye on your check stub from your job and consider filing a claim against your employer if they fail to adequately compensate you for your hours worked.  

The first step you’ll want to take is to file a complaint with the DOL’s Wage and Hour Division office. You may need to submit a state claim as well. You only have a limited amount of time to file such a complaint. You’ll generally be given between 18 and 36 months to do so. 

Many workers who discover their New York employer’s wage theft fail to file a claim because they don’t want to lose their job here in Manhattan. An attorney could explain how other federal legislation may protect you if that were to happen and help you recover the pay that you’re due. 

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