Employers are required under state and federal laws to pay their employees the proper wages for the work they perform. Unfortunately, these laws are not always followed. If you experienced wage theft or haven’t received the money that you’re due, there are ways that you can take to recover your unpaid wages.
One of these is to file a claim against your employer. The whole process can be confusing and complicated, so it’s best to work with an experienced employment lawyer who can advise you on what to do and help you navigate the system. If you want to proceed with this route, below are the steps on how to file a claim for unpaid wages.
Step 1. Calculate the claim
Before demanding payment or filing a claim, it’s a good idea to calculate how much your employer owes you first. Depending on the nature of your situation, your state’s labor board or commission may also require you to complete a worksheet, so getting this out of the way will make things easier.
Keep in mind that all wage claims are different, so the formula may also vary. For most claims, you must determine the number of hours you worked, identify the regular pay rate, and multiply both. After calculating what your employer should have paid you, subtract the amount you actually received.
Step 2. Understand the timeline
There are specific time limits that apply to each type of unpaid wage claim. Once that period passes, you won’t be able to file a claim or take back the money from your employer anymore. That’s why you must check and study the timeline to ensure your claim for unpaid wages is still valid.
If your claim is for minimum wage, overtime pay, illegal deductions, or unpaid reimbursements, you must file it within three years of the violation. Claims based on an oral agreement violation wherein you’re supposed to receive more than the minimum wage must be filed within two years of the breach. If your unpaid wage claim is based on a written agreement, your claim must be filed within four years.
Step 3. Contact an employment lawyer
Although the labor commissioner’s process is designed to allow workers to file claims on their own, retaining an employment lawyer can be beneficial. The next steps can be confusing and complicated, especially if this is your first time filing a claim. With an employment lawyer’s knowledge and experience of the labor laws, they can guide you in navigating the system and give you the best chance of securing suitable compensation.
Step 4. Gather the evidence
Once you’re sure that your claim for unpaid wages is still valid, your next step is to gather your evidence. These supporting documents and worksheets are crucial since they will help prove that you have unpaid wages. Some of the required evidence may include:
- Time records
- Paychecks and pay stubs
- Dishonored or bounced paychecks
- Notice of employment information
- Collective bargaining agreement
The labor board or commission will usually require you to send one copy of the required documents. It’s best to prepare a photocopy of each and submit those instead of the original documents since the hearing officer may want to examine the original records during the formal hearing.
Step 5. File a claim
After gathering the necessary paperwork and pieces of evidence, you can fill out your report or claim form. This document is available online in most states through the labor commissioner’s page or your state government’s website. You can also get a copy from a district office near you.
After completing the form, you can submit it along with the evidence by mail or in person at one of the labor commissioner's offices. They will then notify you and your employer about the next steps of your claim. You can usually expect a notice for a settlement conference, and if it’s still not settled by then, a notice for a hearing.
Several federal and state laws protect employees’ right to receive proper wages. If you believe that your employer failed to pay you fair wages for the work you’ve done, you should consider filing for unpaid wages. It’s also a good idea to talk to a competent employment lawyer for help. They can take on all the legwork on your behalf and help you receive compensation for your losses.