Recovering Unpaid Overtime: Your Legal Rights in New York 

Recovering Unpaid Overtime: Your Legal Rights in New York

Understanding the complex world of wage and hour laws is crucial for employees in New York who feel they’ve been denied the overtime pay they legally deserve. Workers, regardless of nationality or immigration status, are often entitled to overtime pay, and understanding your rights is the first step in claiming what you’ve earned. This informative guide will help you navigate your legal options, emphasizing the benefits of partnering with an experienced wage firm. 

Your Right to Recover Unpaid Overtime 

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and New York State labor laws, employees categorized as “non-exempt” must receive overtime pay for hours worked over 40 in a workweek. Non-exempt employees are typically hourly workers, but some salaried workers may qualify as well. Overtime compensation should be at least one and one-half times the employee’s regular rate of pay. 

Understanding the Six-Year Statute of Limitations 

In New York, the statute of limitations for wage claims is six years. This means that as an employee, you can file a claim for unpaid wages, including overtime, for up to six years from the date the wages were earned but not paid. This is one of the longest timeframes in the country, offering you a significant period to seek justice for unpaid labor. 

Protection Against Employer Retaliation 

One of the key protections you have when asserting your rights to unpaid overtime is safeguarding against employer retaliation. New York labor laws explicitly prohibit mployers from penalizing, dismissing, or discriminating against an employee for making a complaint about unpaid wages or for asserting their rights under the wage and hour provisions of the law. If you experience retaliation, there could be grounds for additional claims against your employer. 

Identifying Unpaid Overtime 

Constantly Working Beyond Standard Hours Without Extra Pay 

Employees who often find themselves working longer hours than their standard scheduled workweek may be victims of unpaid overtime. If you work more than 40 hours in a week, and you’re not being compensated at the time-and-a-half rate required by law for the excess hours, this is a clear red flag for unpaid overtime. 

Identifying It: 

  • Track your actual hours worked each week. 
  • Compare your timesheet with your pay stubs. 
  • Note any discrepancies between the hours worked and the pay received. 

Being Classified as “Manager” or “Exempt” Without Meeting Legal Criteria 

Employers sometimes misclassify employees as “exempt” to avoid paying overtime. Exemption is not based on job titles like “manager,” but on specific criteria concerning job duties and salary thresholds as defined by the FLSA. 

Identifying It: 

  • Review the criteria for exempt status to ensure you meet them all. Common requirements include supervising two or more employees, having hiring and firing authority, and exercising discretion and independent judgment on significant matters. 
  • Evaluate your salary to ensure it meets the threshold for exempt status. 

Receiving “Comp Time” Instead of Monetary Overtime Wages 

“Comp time,” or compensatory time off, is sometimes offered to employees in lieu of cash payment for overtime. In the private sector, this practice is generally not permitted under the FLSA; overtime must be paid monetarily. 

Identifying It: 

  • Check if you’re receiving time off in place of overtime pay. 
  • Verify if this practice aligns with labor laws applicable to your sector (public or private). 

Deductions in Pay for Breaks or Time Not Worked That Result in a Workweek Beyond 40 Hours Without Overtime Compensation 

Sometimes, payroll systems automatically deduct time for breaks, whether taken or not. If such deductions cause your recorded work time to be less than the actual hours worked, pushing you over the 40-hour threshold without proper overtime pay, you might have unpaid overtime. 

Identifying It: 

  • Monitor any automatic deductions for breaks or meals. 
  • Ensure you’re being paid for all the time you’re permitted to work, even if that means not taking entitled breaks. 

Key Steps to Identify Unpaid Overtime 

  1. Maintain Your Own Records: Keep a personal log of your work hours, breaks, and overtime. 
  1. Understand Wage and Hour Laws: Know the overtime rules and how they apply to your work situation. 
  1. Review Pay Stubs: Consistently check your pay stubs for accuracy against your records. 
  1. Ask Questions: If you’re uncertain about your classification or compensation, ask your employer for clarification. 
  1. Seek Legal Advice: If discrepancies are noted and your employer does not rectify them, or if you’re unsure about your exempt status, seek the guidance of a legal expert in labor law. 

Steps to Recover Unpaid Overtime 

1. Review Your Employment Status 

Determine if your position truly qualifies as exempt from overtime. Job titles do not dictate exempt status – job duties and salary do. 

When reviewing your employment status to determine if you are correctly classified as exempt or non-exempt regarding overtime pay, it’s essential to look beyond your job title to the specifics of your job duties and salary. The Fair Labor Standards Act (SA) sets out clear criteria to establish whether an employee is exempt from overtime pay, and failing to satisfy any one of these criteria means you should be classified as non-exempt and, therefore, eligible for overtime when you work more than 40 hours a week. 

2. Document Your Hours 

Keep detailed records of the hours you work, including dates and times. This information can serve as proof of unpaid overtime. 

Best Practices for Documenting Your Hours 

Use of Time-Tracking Tools 

  • Electronic Systems: If your employer provides a digital time clock or timekeeping software, use it diligently for every shift. Ensure you’re clocking in and out accurately, including for unpaid meal breaks and at the start and end of your workday. 
  • Personal Record-Keeping: Maintain a personal logbook or spreadsheet where you record your work hours, regardless of the employer’s system. Note the times you start and end work, including any unpaid breaks. 

Detailed Entries 

  • Specificity: Record the exact times you begin and end work-related activities, not just rounded-off hours. 
  • Description of Work: Briefly note what tasks were performed during these hours, particularly if they demonstrate work outside of your typical duties or occurred outside of normal business hours. 

Regular Updates 

  • Frequency of Recordings: Make entries daily. Waiting to document hours at the end of the pay period can lead to inaccuracies or forgetting to log some hours entirely. 
  • Consistency: Keep your records regularly, without gaps. Consistency adds to the integrity of your records and can strengthen your position if your records are questioned. 

Copies and Backups 

  • Physical and Digital Records: Keep both physical and digital forms of your timesheets if possible. Utilize apps or other digital tools to create electronic timestamps that can back up your manual entries. 
  • Backup: Regularly make copies or backups of your records in case the original documents are lost or damaged. 

Review and Compare 

  • Pay Stubs: Compare your documented hours to your pay stubs to ensure all hours worked are accounted for and properly compensated. 
  • Discrepancies: Note any discrepancies between your records and your pay stubs, and address them as soon as possible with your HR department. 

Keep Everything 

  • Documentation Storage: Store all your documented hours, logs, emails or communications regarding your work hours, and pay stubs in a secure place for at least the duration of your employment plus the statute of limitations period for wage claims in your state. 
  • Privacy: Ensure that your records are kept private. Personal documentation should be for your eyes only or those of your legal counsel if it comes to a claim. 

3. File a Complaint with Your HR Department 

Present your concerns and records to your employer, typically through the HR department. They may address the oversight or clarify your employment classification. 

4. Seek Legal Counsel 

If resolving the issue with HR doesn’t bring satisfaction, it’s time to consult a wage firm with expertise in employment law and the FLSA. A skilled wage and hour firm like Cilenti & Cooper, PLLC will assist you in several ways: 

  • Expertise in Wage Laws: Professionals well-versed in state and federal labor laws offer a considerable advantage. 
  • Negotiation Skills: A lawyer can manage negotiations with employers, often achieving better outcomes. 
  • Litigation Experience: If the case goes to court, having experienced legal representation is invaluable. 
  • No-Retaliatory Shields: With a lawyer by your side, employers are less likely to engage in any form of intimidation. 

A wage and hour firm knowledgeable in federal and state labor laws, like Cilenti & Cooper, PLLC, can be the key to receiving your unpaid overtime. We can ensure that your claim is solid and timely, adhering to both state and federal laws. We understand the intricacies of wage and hour directives, navigate through the exemptions, and clear the fog around complex employment designations. 

  • Efficient and Effective Recovery: Wage and hour firms expedite the process, moving you swiftly through the complexities of your case. 
  • Maximizing Your Reimbursement: Experienced lawyers know how to effectively argue for not just the unpaid overtime, but also for additional damages you may be entitled to. 
  • Minimizing Stress: Having a firm take the lead allows you to focus on your work and personal life, reducing the strain a legal process might impose. 
  • Protection of Your Rights: Lawyers will advocate fiercely for your rights, ensuring you receive fair treatment under the law. 

Working closely with a wage firm in New York like Cilenti & Cooper, PLLC, that is well-versed in FLSA and NY Labor Law brings a depth of experience and a proactive stance in recovering unpaid overtime. Our professionals have the specialized knowledge and resources to ensure you are compensated fairly for your work, often allowing for a smoother and more successful resolution. 


Recovering unpaid overtime in New York requires understanding your legal rights and knowing the steps to take. Partnering with a wage and hour firm experienced in the FLSA is usually your best bet. They can provide the requisite expertise, advocacy, and peace of mind to recover what you’re rightfully owed. 



Let us fight to recover the wages you have earned.

Recent Posts