It's only fair that if your employer expects you to show up on time and do your job every day, you should be able to count on him to pay you on payday. You have a few options if he doesn’t, but you may need the help of an attorney for at least one of them.
State Requirements for Paydays
If you always get paid on Friday and you still have empty pockets when Monday rolls around, it might seem like your boss is late -- but he might not be breaking the law. Other than South Carolina and Alabama, all states have laws determining how long you can work before your employer must give you a paycheck. Depending on where you work, this might be a week, two weeks or even a month. If you’re normally paid on Friday for a week’s work and you live in Florida -- which requires that employers pay no less frequently than monthly -- your employer isn’t in violation of the law until 30 days elapse. FindLaw publishes a chart on its website so you can see what the rules are in your state. Legally, employers are supposed to pay by these deadlines, but some states have different rules for certain industries.
The Fair Labor Standards Act
The federal government has a law regarding paydays as well. The Fair Labor Standards Act governs minimum wage and overtime rules, but a federal court has also addressed the issue of late pay under the terms of the FLSA. In the case of Gordon vs. Maxim Healthcare Services, the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania ruled that late payment of wages is the same as not paying an employee, and that's against the rules. The court said that late payments can particularly impact employees on the lower end of the pay scale and ruled in favor of the worker, stating that the company had violated the terms of the FLSA. Employers in violation of the FLSA risk liability for unpaid wages, attorneys’ fees, court costs and liquidated damages -- the employee has a right to be financially compensated for her trouble.
What to Do
If your employer consistently pays you late, you might want to take action. You'll probably need the help of a lawyer if you want to sue and apply the federal standard of the FLSA. Federal court isn’t really a place where you’d want to try to represent yourself, no matter how strong your case is. But you have some other options as well, including filing a lawsuit in state court -- many states have their own version of the FLSA. There are a few things you should do to pave the way for a legal action.
FindLaw recommends making a complaint to your employer in writing, asking for the money you’re owed. Keep a copy for your records.
If your employer hasn’t paid you within a reasonable period of time after you give him written notice, and if you’re sure that he should have under your state’s statutory deadlines, make a complaint to your state’s Department of Labor.
FindLaw suggests that you can file a lawsuit in small claims court for unpaid wages. This might be an option if late pay isn’t a chronic, ongoing problem -- you just want what you're owed.
If you decide you want to go to court -- other than small claims court -- speak with a lawyer who specializes in employment law. If he believes you have a strong claim for damages, he might agree to represent you in either state or federal court on a contingent fee basis -- he’ll take a percentage of the money you recover rather than require you to pay a retainer fee up front.
Beverly Bird is a practicing paralegal who has been writing professionally on legal subjects for over 30 years. She specializes in family law and estate law and has mediated family custody issues.