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Unpaid Wages Revisited: I’m Owed Wages. What Are My Rights?

Law gavel on a stack of American moneyAre you owed wages from your employer, especially now during these trying and uncertain times due to COVID-19? As we outlined in our June 2019 blog, you have different options for pursuing a claim against your employer for non-payment of wages.  Today, we are expanding on those rights so that employees are armed with information on how to recover wages due to them.

Many employees may be surprised to learn that your employer has no certain time period to pay you for your work.  While there is no certain time frame that you MUST be paid, if you work in counties like Hillsborough or Pinellas County, there are wage theft ordinances that may apply.  For example, under both county ordinances, reasonable time for payment of wages “shall be presumed to be no later than 14 calendar days from the date on which the work is performed unless the employer has established, by policy or practice, a pay schedule whereby employees earn and are consistently paid wages according to regularly recurring pay periods in which case such pay schedule shall govern.”

According to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), when the regular payday for the last pay period you worked has passed and you have not been paid, you may contact the Department of Labor.

How do I go after my employer for what I am owed?

  • File a lawsuit for unpaid wages. Depending on the amount you are owed, you can bring a claim for unpaid wages in Florida in small claims court ($8,000 or less, excluding costs, interest, and attorneys’ fees), or in county or circuit court. If you are successful on your claims and have an attorney, your attorney’s fees may be recoverable.  You have two (2) years to file an unpaid wages claim in Florida.
  • File a lawsuit for a minimum wage or overtime violation. If you were not paid for work you performed, you may also have unpaid minimum wage and/or overtime compensation claims under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and/or Florida Minimum Wage Act (FMWA). You may contact the DOL regarding these claims, but your time deadlines for taking legal action do not stop running just because you have done so.  Under the FLSA, you have two (2) years to file a claim, or three (3) years for a willful violation of the law.  Under the FMWA, you have four (4) years to file a claim, or five (5) years for a willful violation of the law.
  • File a lawsuit for civil theft. Under Florida law, an employee may bring a civil theft claim against an employer when the employer has not paid wages due. Before filing an action in court, the employee must provide the employer with written notice of the claim and allow the employer 30 days to pay the amount due.  If the employee is successful in court on the civil theft claim, he may recover three times the amount due, along with attorney’s fees and court costs.  The statute of limitations for filing a civil theft claim is five (5) years.
  • File a complaint under any available county wage-theft ordinance. For example, the Hillsborough County and Pinellas County ordinances state that wage theft occurs when an employer fails to pay any portion of wages earned by an employee (or independent contractor, as applicable) within a reasonable period of time from the date on which wages were due for work performed by the employee.  If the employee is successful on the wage theft claim, the employee may recover three (3) times the amount due.
    • The Hillsborough County ordinance applies to employees and independent contractors.
    • The Pinellas County Wage-Theft Ordinance requires that a signed complaint for wage theft must be filed with Pinellas County Office of Human Rights no later than one (1) year after the last date upon which the employee performed work for the employer.

Check out our previous blogs on other unpaid wage related topics — Are you Entitled to Payout of Vacation Time – July 2019  and Are Employers Required to Pay Holidays – July 2019.

If you are owed wages, consult with an employment law attorney for an evaluation of your potential unpaid wages claims against your employer or former employer.

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