What is wage theft and how do I know if it is happening to me?
Wage Theft describes any time a company or employer doesn’t pay some, or all, of a worker’s wages.
Some ways that an employer might commit wage theft are:
- Not paying the minimum wage. Employers need to pay at least the DC minimum wage of $10.50 per hour. Sometimes, your employer may need to pay you a higher minimum wage. If you are a tipped worker, your hourly pay must be at least $2.77 per hour, but even then the total you earn including tips in a given week should be at least the DC minimum wage of $10.50. If it isn’t, your employer has to pay you the difference.
- Not paying the promised wage. Even if your employer has only verbally told you how much they’re going to pay, they must pay you at least that amount.
- Making you work off the clock. You should be paid for all of the time you work and your employer may not require you to punch out and continue working.
- Not paying overtime. Most employees who work more than 40 hours a week have a right to be paid 1.5 times their usual pay for every hour worked after 40 hours.
- Not paying on time. You have the right to be paid on regular paydays, usually at least once or twice a month. You may have the right to collect damages for late wages.
- Not paying your full wage. Employers may not take money from your wages for uniforms, tools, or other supplies needed for the job if the result is that you are left earning less than the minimum wage.
- Not paying at all. Your employer cannot deny you wages you have earned, period.
What can I do if I am owed wages?
You have the right to demand your wages. You can file a claim with the DC Department of Employment Services’ Office of Wage-Hour if you believe that your employer has not paid you all the wages you are owed. You also can choose to write your employer a letter demanding your wages or sue your employer in court. See the get help section for more information.
If you file with the DC Office of Wage-Hour, they have up to 60 days to investigate your claim and make an initial determination about whether or not you are owed wages. If they decide against you, you can appeal your case to an administrative judge. After 60 days, if the Office of Wage-Hour hasn’t been able to make a determination, then you can go directly to an administrative judge, who will make a formal decision based on the evidence, or rule in your favor if your employer doesn’t appear. If your employer doesn’t pay you your wages after being ordered to by a judge, the city can take steps to suspend their business license until they pay up.
How long do I have to demand my wages?
The time you have to demand your unpaid wages is called the statute of limitations. In DC, the statute of limitations to demand unpaid wages is up to three years, or longer in certain cases.
For example, if you start a new job on January 1, 2015, and you are paid less than the minimum wage, you will have at least until January 1, 2018 to file a claim . By January 2, 2018, you can still file a claim, but you may not be able to get the portion of your wages from more than three years before you filed the claim.
Once you file a lawsuit, or a claim with the Office of Wage-Hour, the time it takes for the claim to be addressed won’t count against your three year limit.
What if I don’t have any proof of the wages I’m owed?
Your employer also needs to give you written terms of employment when you start your job, including your salary, start date, and typical schedule, in English and in your primary language, and it must be signed by both of you. If your employer never gave you a written notice, then your version of events will be presumed to be true, and your employer is the one who needs to show proof.
What happens if my employer retaliates against me for demanding my wages?
It is illegal for an employer to retaliate against a worker in any way for filing a claim for unpaid wages, or for directly asking your employer about the wages.
If your employer takes any action against you within 90 days of making a formal or informal complaint, there will be a presumption that your employer was retaliating against you. If your employer retaliates against you, you may be able to collect damages of $1,000 to $10,000.
Can I demand that my employer pay me more than just the wages I’m owed?
Do I have the right to demand my unpaid wages if I am undocumented?
What if I am paid in cash?
Do I have the same rights if I am an independent contractor?
No, independent contractors generally have fewer protections than employees. For example, independent contractors do not have the right to minimum wage or overtime. This is why it is important to know whether your employer has properly classified you as an independent contractor, or whether you’re actually entitled to be classified as an employee. The test for this is complicated and should be something you discuss with a lawyer, but it is more likely that you will be considered an employee if:
- your boss tells you when to come to work and how many hours to work
- your boss controls the “conditions” of your employment – e.g., what you do at work, how you do it, where you do it, what you wear, when and if you can take a break, etc.
- your boss provides all the tools and equipment you need to perform your job; and
- your boss determines your rate and method of payment for the work.
Can I be paid more if my boss sends me home before my shift ends?
Unless you usually work shifts that are less than four hours long, your employer must pay you for at least four hours of work for each day you report to work but are sent home, or are given less than four hours of work.
Can I be paid more if I have to wait between two back to back shifts?
Your employer is required to pay you for an additional hour of work (at the minimum wage rate) for each day that you work a “split shift.” A split shift is a schedule where you do not work all of your hours in a row and have to take a break of over one hour between.
Get Legal Help
If you have other questions or if you think your rights have been violated