Your Legal Rights at Work

How to Deal With an Unpaid Wages Claim

by Lewis Hamilton

One of the most stressful issues to deal with is an employer failing to pay wages that you honestly earned. You likely are wondering what recourse you might have, how to address the situation, and whether you may need to ask an unpaid wages lawyer for help. This is what an unpaid wages attorney will usually tell a prospective client to do.

Relentlessly Document Promises and Communications

If it comes to legal action, you can bet there's a good chance the case will hinge on what the two sides can document. From the time of your initial employment, you should maintain copies of all paperwork that reflects what your pay is. If there are specific guarantees of things like overtime or hazard pay, you want those in writing, too. Don't despair if you don't have something like an employment contract outlining the arrangement. You also can use pay stubs that show what the status quo regarding your wages was. Likewise, your state's labor laws or even federal ones may kick in and becoming the governing rules in the absence of a written employment contract.

Similarly, you'll want to document all communications. For example, if your boss sent you a message on Facebook or an email asking you to come in an extra Saturday this month, you'll want to keep that. That's especially the case if they promised you extra pay for the work.

Know Your Legal Status

One of the most commonly abused methods for shorting people's pay is to label them contract workers. Bear in mind an employer can't just call you an independent contractor and skirt U.S. and state labor laws. An independent contractor is someone who may accept or reject assignments at will and without recrimination. If you had a regular work schedule that you didn't set, there's a good chance you were legally supposed to be classified as an employee. On the bright side, that means you might stand to make more on an unpaid wages claim. If you're not sure what your status was, contact an unpaid wages attorney. They can review the documents you have and tell you whether your status was properly labeled.

Stay Calm About the Problem

Understandably, no one likes someone else jerking them around about money. There is no legal upside, though, in getting upset with the other party. If they elect to be aggressive about the situation, simply refer them to your unpaid wages lawyers and let the attorney handle it calmly.