Is There a Statue of Limitations for Unpaid Wages?

By federal law, you are entitled to your paycheck. Employers might be able to decide how and when you get paid, but federal laws are strict when it comes to the payroll process. The Fair Labor Standards Act plays a significant role in your wages. If an employer failed to compensate you in full for the hours you worked or your overtime, you might be eligible for FLSA back pay for the compensation you missed out on.

Your Paycheck Rights

There is likely more to your paycheck than you know. You have several rights which your employer must grant.

  1. You have the right to be paid quickly, and quickly after leaving a job. 

The Federal Labor Standards Act does not require the amount of time an employer must pay its employees, only that it must be prompt. States may require certain timelines, but typically should be as close to the most recent pay period as possible. If you are fired or quit from a job, the Department of Labor states that you must be paid the next regular payday. Otherwise your rights have been violated.

  1. You cannot be fired due to garnished wages.

If your wages have to be garnished due to child support or other court-mandated issues, your employer cannot by law fire you. Upon a second or further garnishments, however, you could be fired.

  1. You have the right to work for minimum wage, in addition to working for tips.

Minimum wage can get complex when tips are combined. The federal minimum for employees who make at least $30 a month in tips is $2.13 direct wages. If an employee does not meet this minimum the employer must pay its employee the difference. Some states require paying more than the federal minimum before tips, while other states pay full minimum wage in addition to tips.

  1. You have the right to collect backpay.

Backpay is simple: it is the difference between what an employee was required to be paid and what they were actually paid. The FLSA mandates that if an employer is forced to back pay to settle a wage dispute, they must also cover the cost of liquidated damages, court costs, and attorney fees.

  1. Your employer cannot garnish wages based on poor performance or short breaks.

Once you begin employment, you are in agreement with your employer for a fixed pay rate. This means that your employer may not deduct your wages for poor performance or any other circumstances. These circumstances include short breaks. While employees are required to give unpaid meal breaks of at least 30 minutes, shorter breaks such as coffee breaks may only last 5 to 20 minutes. An employer is not required to allow these, but if they do allow short breaks, they are required to compensate for them.

What Is Backpay?

Backpay is wages that an employer did not pay its employee and are still owed. This is the difference between what you should have been paid and what you were actually paid. Backpay can include minimum wage, overtime wages, and promised wage increases. Backpay can be considered an “accident” or back pay could be owed if your employer was in direct violation of your wage rights.

Statute of Limitations for Backpay

There is a statute of limitations for backpay. FLSA requires that an employee file their suit for wage violation within a certain amount of time, otherwise backpay is not owed. The statute of limitations is typically two years. An employee has two years to file for backpay, unless the company has had ongoing wage violations, an employee can recover wages from the two years prior to filing the claim. For an employer who willfully violates wages, there is a three-year statute of limitations.

You have a right to your wages. If you feel your rights have been violated, you may seek help from a California wages and hour attorney.