Monthly Archives: April 2011

Wage Issues? Tip #6: When Finding a Wage Attorney, Think National, Ask the Important Questions Upfront, and Other Things to Consider

This post continues my series of tips, or things to consider, for workers with unpaid wages.

Tip #6 is this: When Finding a Wage Attorney, Think National, Ask the Important Questions Upfront, and Other Things to Consider.

Here’s an (obvious) disclosure upfront: I am a wage attorney, so it benefits me to talk to workers about the best ways to find a wage attorney.

So, while you should consider the source, so to speak, you should also consider the logic of what I’m about to say, to see if it makes sense and is worth taking into consideration.

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Wage Issues? Tip #5: Know There Is Strength in Numbers

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This post continues my series of tips, or things to consider, for workers with unpaid wages.

Tip #5 is this: Know there is strength in numbers– the larger the unpaid wage amount, the larger the employer, and/or the more employees who are underpaid, the more likely it is you have leverage for potential legal claims relating to unpaid wages.

Some workers with unpaid wages focus (understandably) on factors such as the obviousness or unfairness of the unpaid wages at issue.

Consider a worker who expresses something like this:

“My employer deducted $300 from my paycheck, and I read a government agency website that says deductions like this are unlawful!”

While such interpretations by a worker may well be true (or may not), the amount of wages at issue in this example ($300) is itself important to consider before taking action such as making a complaint, paying hourly (non-contingency) legal fees to an attorney, etc.

A wage amount that is less than thousands of dollars may well be important to recover– hey, being underpaid $10 you are owed is too much– but lower wages must be compared to (1) the potential time and resources invested in a legal action; and (2) the employer’s reaction.

For example, a complaint to a current employer about $300 in a situation like the example above could result in the worker being fired, as a practical matter.  Is that potential consequence worth the potential benefit of recovering $300?  I am not trying to answer this question, just mention that it bears asking.

Generally speaking, a potential action for unpaid wages has more potential leverage the higher the amount of wages at issue.

Also important is whether the employer is systematically underpaying large numbers of workers or not.

When an employer knows it may owe you and/or a number of other workers a large amount of wages, the employer knows it has more potential liability on the line if it refuses a request, or defends a legal action, for unpaid wages.



Wage Issues? Tip #4: Keep Documentation

This post continues my series of tips, or things to consider, for workers with unpaid wages.

Tip #4 is this: Keep documentation if you think you may pursue payment of unpaid wages.

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Wage Issues? Tip #4: Keep Documentation

This post continues my series of tips, or things to consider, for workers with unpaid wages.

Tip #4 is this: Keep documentation if you think you may pursue payment of unpaid wages.

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If there is a chance you may try to recover unpaid wages from an employer (now or in the future), it is very important you keep complete documentation of all that’s going on.

This means: (1) hold on to all paystubs; (2) hold on to any other documents (e.g. contract, bonus plan/policy, emailed complaints about wages, etc.) that relate to wages; and (3) create a journal of relevant issues.

For example, if the employer is deducting 1.0 hour of wages for a lunch hour that you had in fact worked through, and you made a spoken complaint to your boss who failed to act, record a journal of such facts each time they occur. Later, it can be of great help to you that you have documentation supporting events that relate to unpaid wages.

This tip of keeping documentation may sound obvious, but it is an easy thing to forget or overlook, especially as time passes.

Stay on top of things, and maintain (and organize) all documents relating to wages, if you’re considering an attempt to pursue the unpaid wages, either via a legal action or informal request, down the road.


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Wage Issues? Tip #3: Before Complaining, Know Your Audience

This post continues my series of tips, or things to consider, for workers with unpaid wages.

Tip #3 is this: Before you complain (to your employer or to a legal authority) about unpaid wages, know your audience.

When a worker learns he or she was underpaid, it is common for such a worker to complain about the underpaid wages right away, as if by reflex.

The types of complaints take many forms.

An underpaid worker may walk up to his manager with a paystub showing underpayment, say “Hey, this isn’t right!” and wait for the manager’s reaction.

Or the worker may find a website for a State or Federal wage enforcement agency, download a legal wage complaint form, fill it out, and mail it to the agency, without talking with the employer or the agency beforehand about information and options.

The act of complaining is often a good thing.

However, before complaining (assuming you have time under legal deadlines), it is best to get educated about the complaint process(es) at issue.

Namely, a worker should learn about this: who is my audience that my potential complaint would be going to?  What is their usual process and timing for handling such complaints?  What is the usual result? Is this type of complaint my best option as compared to other potential options?

A worker can ask these questions, for example, in a pre-complaint phone call with the government wage agency at issue.

If you take time to educate yourself on the questions above, and get to know your audience better, you will almost certainly learn of important information — including potential options, risks and benefits– that you were not aware of before.

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Wage Issues? Tip #2: Know that Statutes of Limitations (Deadlines) Apply, and Are of Pressing Importance

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This post continues my series of tips, or things to consider, for workers with unpaid wages.Tip #2 is this: Know that statutes of limitations (deadlines) apply, and are of pressing importance.

Every situation that involves unpaid wages also involves a ticking clock.  That is, there are statutes of limitations, i.e. deadlines, that apply to your unpaid wages.

Many wage laws have a two (2)- year deadline, and that deadline likely only applies to a period before the complaint-filing date.  For example, Wisconsin wage law has a two-year deadline, and if a Wisconsin State wage complaint were filed in court on April 26, 2011, the worker could only seek unpaid wages for the two-year block dating back to April 26, 2009.  With each day that passes, in this example, a day’s worth of potentially recoverable unpaid wages is lost.

Please note that several laws, with several different deadlines, could apply to one situation of unpaid wages.  I have seen situations where over five (5) potential legal claims existed for one worker with unpaid wages.  Further, some laws (if you are fortunate enough they apply to you) provide for longer deadlines, ranging from three (3) to six (6) year deadlines, and in rare instances longer periods.

In sum, there can be multiple different laws, and multiple different deadlines, that can apply to one situation of unpaid wages.

Because such deadlines exist, if you have unpaid wages you should act promptly to (1) evaluate potential legal claims; (2) determine the potential claims’ merits and deadlines; and (3) if there are potential claims you feel are worth pursuing, take legal action (negotiate with the employer and/or file a legal complaint).

Posted via email from Mike Brown’s posterous

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Wage Issues? Tip #1: Don’t Make Assumptions (That an Attorney Hasn’t Advised On)

As an employee rights and visa worker rights attorney, I’ve dealt with many issues related to unpaid wages.

I will post a series of blog articles with tips, or things to consider, for workers who have unpaid wages.

Tip #1 is the following: Do not make assumptions about wage situations that an attorney has not advised you to make.

Here are some assumptions I’ve commonly observed workers make, and that are commonly wrong:

  • “I know ALL the laws and deadlines (or statutes of limitations) that apply to my unpaid wages or employment matter.”

There are often several laws, with several deadlines, that apply to one unpaid wage scenario.  I have seen certain unpaid wage scenarios for which more than five legal theories (different laws and claims) could apply to one given scenario.  Please do not assume that your understanding of the laws that apply to your situation– no matter how extensive your own legal or internet research may have been– is complete.

Often, workers assume that they are limited by particular laws and deadlines, but are not aware of other laws and deadlines that provide different options.  An experienced attorney who has repeated experience with given wage situations will likely be aware of more laws, more deadline periods, and more options than will a worker who does not have repeated experience with the issue at hand.

  • “I can’t get my unpaid wages, based on my understanding/interpretation of the law.”

It is common for a worker who senses he or she is underpaid to assume that the law does not require payment for those underpaid wages.

For example, it is common for a worker who is paid on a salary basis, and who works overtime (over 40 weekly hours), to assume that that the law does not entitle him or her to overtime pay. 

However, contrary to this common assumption (that salaried workers do not get overtime pay), overtime laws allow for some situations where salaried workers are required to receive overtime pay.

The common assumptions above are just the tip of the iceberg.  I run into many workers who made assumptions about unpaid wages that turned out to be wrong, and turned out to limit or block the worker’s options.

It is fine for a worker, of course, to research wage laws and potential options.  However, if a worker takes action (or fails to take action) based on assumptions about legal issues, the worker is likely taking on risks.  Again, an attorney can help clarify options, risks, and potential benefits or problems with a course of action or inaction.

Obviously, it serves my interests as an attorney to tell workers to contact an attorney, and it’s fair for you to take that into account.  But my message is broader than that– contact any employee rights attorney familiar with wage rights before you take action or give up on a potential action.  And it’s fine of course that you limit your contact to an attorney you are comfortable with, and who offers terms of consultation or representation that are comfortable to you, including affordable and/or contingency terms.

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H-1B Workers: Topics of Interest? Please Let Me Know

It’s been too long since a blog post about H-1B rights issues.  (So you know, during the downtime, the attorney-author has continued to represent H-1B workers in legal matters).

Part of the reason for the H-1B-post downtime is that several issues facing H-1B workers recur over and over– for example, I don’t know that you’d want yet another article about benching and nonproductive-time wages.

So, I’ll ask you H-1B workers out there what issues that you want to read about: are there any H-1B employee-rights topics or issues you’d like covered on this blog?

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