How to Sue an Employer for Unpaid Wages

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Whether an employee is currently working for an employer and did not receive the wages he is entitled to or he did not receive his final paycheck, employees have a legal right to their wages. A wage claim may involve not receiving the minimum wage, being forced to work off the clock, having unauthorized deductions being taken from your paycheck, not receiving vacation time upon termination or not receiving pay for work completed during lunch or breaks, depending on state or federal law.

Contact Human Resources

Ask to talk to the human resources manager or the manager of the payroll department. Discuss the reason for your claim. Doing so may help you resolve the issue quickly and peacefully if the mistake was a clerical error or misunderstanding. Additionally, you may have to show the court or governmental agency that you tried to resolve the issue internally first.

Send a Demand Letter

Write your employer a demand letter. This letter should clearly state the reason that you believe you are owed money. List the specific amount of money that you believe you are owed. Cite any relevant federal or state law, such as the Fair Labor Standards Act, if you were not paid the minimum wage or you have not received your final paycheck in a timely fashion as required by state law.

Gather Documentation

Collect documents that you may need to prove your case. Some documents that can help prove your case include the following:

  • time records
  • employee handbook
  • communication between you and your employer
  • pay stubs
  • bounced checks
  • written company policies regarding vacation pay, bonuses or holiday pay

Depending on your state's laws, you may have a right to access information in your personnel record.

File an Unpaid Wage Claim

Contact the state agency responsible for handling unpaid wage claims. This may be a field office of the Wage and Hour Division of the United States Department of Labor or another agency such as a labor board or labor standards division. You may have to complete a form in which you provide information about you and your employer and the legal basis of your claim. Provide supporting documentation with your claim form.

The state agency may contact your employer and instruct him to pay wages. It may also schedule a conference or a hearing in which you must prove how your employer owes you wages.

File a Civil Claim

As an alternative to filing a claim with a state agency or to appeal a decision made by the labor standards division, you may choose to file a civil claim. Small claims courts have a maximum dispute amount -- commonly $5,000 -- and may not allow you or your employer to have legal representation. Contact the city or county clerk where your employer's place of business is to learn about how to file a small claims case in that area. Contact a lawyer if you want legal representation to help you file a civil lawsuit against your employer. She should be able to tell you whether it is worth the cost of hiring her to pursue a claim.


    • You may have a limited time to file an unpaid wage claim -- usually two or three years. You may be barred from filing your claim with a state agency if your income exceeds a certain threshold.
    • Filing a civil lawsuit outside of small claims court requires an extensive amount of research and procedural requirements. Handling your own case can cause you to lose your case or be barred from bringing your case if you do not comply with the relevant rules of civil procedure.