What to Do When Your Job Doesn't Pay You

The U.S. Department of Labor exists to protect workers from fraud, abuse and discrimination. Employers are legally obligated to meet minimum labor requirements set forth by the federal government. One of those requirements is minimum wage. When your employer fails to pay you, you may have grounds for a civil suit.

Minimum Wage

Minimum wage is the lowest amount an employer can legally pay a worker. As of 2011, the national minimum wage is set to $7.25. “Many states also have minimum wage laws. Where an employee is subject to both the state and federal minimum wage laws, the employee is entitled to the higher of the two minimum wages,” states the Department of Labor. These minimum wage terms affect nonexempt employees only. If you are a tipped employee or contractor, different rules apply.


If you are an independent contractor, you are not considered an employee of a business and are not protected by minimum wage laws. Independent contractors are self-employed and can work for many employers at one time. If an employer fails to pay you as a contractor, review your employment contract. There may be a specific clause that addresses nonpayment procedures. If not, you may be able to file a civil suit against your employer for breach of contract. Contact your state’s department of labor to learn legal options available in your city.

Back Pay

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, employees are guaranteed compensation at the rate agreed upon when they were hired. If your employer is not paying you, contact the Department of Labor. “The Secretary of Labor may bring suit for back wages and an equal amount as liquidated damages,” explains the Department of Labor. You may also be able to file privately against your employer to receive back pay, damages and legal fees. Your back pay is usually required to be paid within two years.


A job that doesn’t pay you as agreed is usually not a viable employment option. Consider employment alternatives prior to filing a complaint with the Department of Labor. Your relationship with your employer may be strained following a civil suit. Remain professional during all legal proceedings until you find employment with a new company.


About the Author

Lanae Carr has been an entertainment and lifestyle writer since 2002. She began as a staff writer for the entertainment section of the "Emory Wheel" and she writes for various magazines and e-newsletters related to marketing and entertainment. Carr graduated from Emory University with a bachelor's degree in film studies and English.