What to Do If Your Employer Won't Pay You


Work is a formal contract. Employees dedicate their time and expertise to fulfill a set role or task. Employers compensate workers for their time with a monetary wage. In an ideal world, both parties profit from the arrangement.

Unfortunately, not all bosses fulfill their end of the bargain. Company wage theft costs the U.S. workforce billions of dollars every year, according to The Economic Policy Institute. Employers have been known to shortchange employees by:

  • Refusing to pay them altogether.

  • Handing over a non-valid check.

  • Refusing to give paid breaks where legally required.

  • Paying under the federal, state, or county minimum wage.

  • Having employees work off the clock.

  • Taking tips.

What do you do when you realize your boss isn't properly compensating you?

Document the problem

The first thing you should do is document the problem. Make a copy of your pay stub. If you have access to the time management software the organization uses, print the reported hours worked. Begin documenting any past or ongoing "bad" behavior.

On top of that, keep track of any financial fallout you experience from the wage loss. This can include:

  • Missed bills.

  • Missed loan payments.

  • Late fees.

  • Bank fees.

Check in with the company

The next step is to check with the company. It might just be an honest mistake that can be remedied quickly.

If you're currently an employee, talk with human resources or a manager about the problem. They can direct you to the right department if they can't help you themselves. If you're a former employee, you might try contacting a former manager, human resources, or a general contact email about pay discrepancy.

If the company won't respond and won't pay you for all hours worked at the right wage, there are steps you can take to potentially recoup all or some of the money. There aren't, unfortunately, any one-size-fits-all solutions to this problem. There are, however, a variety of strategies you can try to force your former or current employer to compensate you properly.

Dealing with wage theft on a state level

Reporting wage theft is highly dependent on the individual state. Every state has slightly different laws and procedures to help employees report and recover stolen wages.

First, you can file a wage claim through your state's Department of Labor. If you go this route, state department of labor investigators will look into your case.

This may seem like the most obvious and easy route, but it can be a long journey that might be doomed to fail. Recently website Politico reported that six states had no investigators to look into wage violations, and 26 states have fewer than 10 investigators. The end result is that many individuals who report wage claim violations to their state never see their money.

An alternate option is to file a civil complaint in court against the business. The court that the complaint is filed with depends on the monetary amount.

Dealing with wage theft on a federal level

If filing a complaint at the state level isn't a viable option, individuals can file a complaint with the Wage-Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor. According to Politico, the department has about a 90 percent success rate in recovering stolen wages.

The success rate does seem impressive, but it should be noted that the department is very selective on the cases they take on. Investigators at the department don't accept every claim that comes through the door.

And unfortunately, even if they do take on your case, don't be surprised if they can't recover all the money that you're owed. The U.S. Department of Labor can only recover the federal minimum wage. That means if you should have been paid above the federal minimum wage, you still might be looking at a significant loss.

Alternate options to dealing with wage theft

If you belong to a labor union, take the case to union representatives. They should, at the very least, point you in the right direction. The union might even be willing to file a grievance on your behalf if they believe the case is strong enough.

If the wage theft is widespread at the company, employees might be able to band together to file a collective action complaint. A collective action complaint allows groups of employees with similar Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) wage violations to file a complaint against the company together. A collective action complaint, unlike a class-action lawsuit, requires employees to actively sign onto the lawsuit in writing. Employees that don't consent to join the complaint won't benefit or be bound by the ruling. Collective action complaints must be filed, in most cases, within two years.

If you're not sure of your best option, it's recommended that you consult with and possibly hire a lawyer to represent your interests. (See also: Times to Hire a Lawyer Immediately)

In the meantime, make it a priority to switch jobs. If your employer has been flat out refusing to pay you period, jump ship now. Yes, you might have to go without a paycheck for a time, but you're already experiencing that now. You deserve better than an employer that has shady business practices. (See also: 8 Signs You Should Quit Your Job)

Like this article? Pin it!

Disclaimer: The links and mentions on this site may be affiliate links. But they do not affect the actual opinions and recommendations of the authors.

Wise Bread is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.