Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), almost all employees are entitled to be paid at least the federal minimum wage and to receive overtime compensation for every hour worked in excess of 40 hours in a week. Exceptions to the FLSA exist, and they are clearly defined within labor laws. Exempt employees are mostly those whose primary duties involve executive, administrative, professional, computer, or outside sales tasks, while all others are considered nonexempt employees.
Whether willfully or by accident, employers may commit a violation of the FLSA. These wage and hour violations may vary in type. The most common of them is misclassifying employees in terms of who is exempt from the FLSA and who is not, believing salaried employees aren’t entitled to overtime pay, and not correctly recording overtime hours.
If you believe that a violation of the FLSA occurred, you have the right – and perhaps even a duty – to report it. To keep employers accountable for their actions and ensure that as many workplaces comply with the FLSA as possible, all FLSA violations should be brought to light. There are no downsides to reporting your employer for accidental – or even purposeful – breaking of the wage and hours law.
Who can file an FLSA complaint?
FLSA complaints can come from two types of sources:
- An employee who believes their FLSA rights have been violated
- A third party who believes that an employer is violating the FLSA rights of a group of employees. These third parties can be low-level workers who are part of that group of employees, supervisors of the group, or other company executives.
An important thing to understand here is that the identity of the person who filed a complaint cannot be revealed unless ordered by the court or when it is required to investigate the complaint thoroughly. If you want to file a complaint, you can do so anonymously.
Additionally, employment laws state that an employer cannot fire or discriminate against an employee because they made an FLSA complaint or participated in the trial surrounding a complaint.
During the complaint process, no one investigates the immigration status of the employee. Undocumented workers are also entitled to minimum wage and overtime compensation, and the employer cannot use the employee’s immigration status in their defense in court.
Who investigates the complaint?
FLSA complaints are filed to the Wage and Hour Division of the US Department of Labor (DoL). Once the DoL receives a report of a violation, they send out investigators to make contact with the employer and initiate the investigation of the potential wage and hour violations.
The investigation includes the Wage and Hour Division’s investigators collecting data, examining records of payroll and logged work hours, interviewing employees, and finally presenting their findings and deciding what further action is required. This further action can include commencing litigation or even criminal proceedings against the employer, depending on the severity of their violation.
Penalties for FLSA Violations
Wage and hour laws (as well as child labor laws) have specific penalties for employers who accidentally or willfully violate the FLSA. They can be monetary, criminal, or civil penalties.
- Overtime violations: a civil monetary penalty up to $1,000 for each violation
- Minimum wage violations: a civil monetary penalty up to $1,000 for each violation
- Child labor violations: a civil monetary penalty up to $10,000 for each child worker who was employed
- Willful violations of the FLSA: monetary penalties up to $10,000 and criminal prosecution; a second conviction may lead to imprisonment
If there are any unpaid wages and overtime hours that the employer owes, they must pay them. The WHD might supervise the payment of back wages. The Secretary of Labor may start legal proceedings for recovering back wages or an equal amount as liquidated damages.
At the same time, the FLSA prevents the shipment and sale in interstate commerce of any goods produced during the violation of the minimum wages and overtime pay laws. If the employer refuses to correct their offenses, the WHD could prohibit the shipment of goods.
How to File an FLSA Complaint
- First-Hand Complaints
If you feel like you experienced violations of the FLSA firsthand, it would be best to file a complaint with the WHD. After all, the FLSA protects workers from exploitation and ensures everyone gets proper compensation for their labor.
Before actually filing a report, you will need to gather some information. The Department of Labor’s WHD provides a neat list that explains what you need to collect to help the WHD in their investigation.
- Your name
- Your contact information (address and phone number)
- Name of the company in question
- Location and phone number of the company
- Name of the manager or owner of the company (who the WHD should speak to)
- The type of work you did (your job duties)
- How and when you were paid (on a particular day of the week, by cash or check, etc.)
On top of this, any additional information you provide will be beneficial to the case. Think along the lines of copies of pay stubs, details about pay practices of your employer, your personal records of hours worked (such as time cards or an app where you keep track of your hours), and similar.
Once you present your complaint to the WHD, they will investigate the case according to their protocols. You may be asked to provide additional information at some point later on.
- Third-Party Complaints
For various reasons, unpaid wage workers may be hesitant to report their employers. It isn’t unusual for a third party to contact the WHD on behalf of the wronged employee or group of employees. The process is still mostly the same, and it starts with gathering a detailed list of information to present to the WHD that is a little different than if you experienced discrimination yourself.
If you’re unable to present all of the information required, list as much as you know. Every little bit of data will help.
Statutes of Limitations
According to the FLSA, there is a two-year statute of limitations for violations not deemed willful. For willful violations, there is a three-year statute of limitations.
What does this mean? Statutes of limitations limit how much time can pass between the moment a violation occurred and initiating a federal lawsuit regarding the violation. For example, if your employer willfully violated the FLSA in March 2020, legal proceedings must begin before March 2023 at the latest. Otherwise, the statute of limitations on this offense will expire, and you won’t be able to recover back wages.
Because of these statutes of limitations, it is recommended that the wronged employees (or their representatives) file complaints as soon as possible to increase their chances of recovering their rightfully earned money.
The FLSA is a federal wage law that applies across the country. However, depending on your state, you may enjoy additional rights and protections according to your state and local laws. It would be a good idea to check these and see whether you’re entitled to some additional compensation.
Finally, an employee can file a private lawsuit against the employer for back wages or an equal amount as liquidated damages, plus all the fees for the attorneys and court costs.
The FLSA is inarguably the most critical employment law in the United States. Employers violate it because they are either insufficiently familiar with the wages and hours regulations or don’t mind breaking the law. Either way, as you can see from our text, there is plenty you can do to make sure you are fairly compensated for the work that you did.
If you believe an employer violated the FLSA, you can report them to the Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor. You can also file a private suit against them to recover your back wages. The process of filing a complaint with the WHD isn’t overly complicated, but it does require a bit of work and research, especially in terms of whether you have a case.
However, it is crucial to remember that you have every right to demand what belongs to you and that you shouldn’t be afraid of any negative consequences for reporting your employer. The law protects you from any unjust repercussions.
To ease this whole process and help you figure out what is going on and what you should do, Cilenti & Cooper, PLLC, is at your service. We offer experienced, knowledgeable guidance and legal representation to employees in the New York Metropolitan area in the case of an FLSA violation. For a free consultation and assistance, please contact us through our website or give us a call at (718) 841 – 7474. We would be more than happy to help you get appropriately compensated for your work.