What to Do When Your Employer Doesn't Pay
Amidst the longest government shutdown in history, more federal employees are going without deserved pay than ever before. But even a functioning government can't guarantee that an employer will pay its employees on time. Payroll is a federally (and in many cases, state) regulated process with defined rights and restrictions. However, there's just enough leeway in the law for employers to try to skirt around workers' rights.
Don't be mistaken; here's a rundown of what to do if your employer doesn't pay you on time.
1. Be firm: You're legally entitled to be paid "promptly"
Federal laws don't regulate how often employers are required to issue paychecks. Almost all state laws dictate whether employees are paid on a weekly, biweekly, semimonthly, or monthly basis (exceptions include Alabama and South Carolina), but the government's Fair Labor Standards Act clearly states that workers must be paid "promptly." The law doesn't prescribe a specific measurement of time, but specifies that employers must issue either cash or a "negotiable instrument" (like a check) by the soonest pay period possible. In addition, no portion of an employee's pay may be forcibly withheld without cause.
Address the issue with your employer in writing, using any and all available channels to lodge formal complaints and obtain documentation of any violations of federal law. If your employer refuses, you could bring the issue to your state's labor agency.
2. Record everything
Like all legal matters, documentation provides irrefutable evidence. Lawyers and third parties can draw from all documents detailing the payment agreement between employers and their employees to enforce federal laws. Whether or not an employee is worried about losing pay, every laborer should keep their own records, especially the dates of any missed pay days or other payment violations.
3. Contact U.S. Department of Labor
If an employer has violated a worker's right to be paid on time, then depending on one's state, the employee should contact the state labor division or the federal Wage and Hour Division. The Fair Labor Standards Act is upheld by these departments, which enforce a range of laws that regulate everything from how records are kept to how withholdings must be itemized on pay stubs. These departments will also hold employers accountable to laws forbidding them from changing pay rate without notice, docking pay, or withholding pay.
4. You have the right to back pay
If an employer delays payment or underpays an employee, that laborer is entitled to back pay in the amount of the owed difference. If an employer refuses, the worker has the right to file a private suit in small claims court for back wages, in addition to court costs and attorney's fees. The Fair Labor Standards Act even enables the Secretary of Labor to sue on the employee's behalf.
5. Use emergency fundsOf course, having money put away is a luxury if you're able to earn disposable income. An employer not paying on time is only one instance in which emergency funds are necessary in order to stabilize your home and food security. For those who aren't able to accrue personal savings, there are hardship withdrawals, an option to take funds from employer-sponsored retirement plans (like 401(k)s, 403(b)s, or 457 plans) without paying a penalty. Some plans offer this option in instances of "immediate and heavy financial need." Depending on your plan and your employer's restrictions, the amount you're allowed to withdrawal will vary. Check with your plan administrator to apply for a hardship withdrawal.
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