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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