Category Archives: Employee Tips – Unpaid Wages

Work for Wal-Mart and Have to Buy Clothes Per Their New Policy?

My law firm represents workers in employment and wage lawsuits across the U.S. and is investigating Wal-mart’s new dress code policy.  Are you a Wal-mart worker — or do you know one– who has bought clothes due to Wal-mart’s new dress code policy?

If so, and you are interested in speaking with a lawyer, please contact me, attorney Michael Brown, at 920-757-2488 or

According to news reports, Wal-Mart has a new dress code policy that requires workers to wear certain clothes to work.  If workers do not have the clothes– e.g. pants, shirts, etc. of the required kind and color– they must obtain or buy them.  Wal-mart informs workers they can buy the clothes from Wal-mart.

It is possible workers may have legal rights and options.  Different States have different laws that potentially apply to clothes-purchase issues.  Legal rights depend on the circumstances, including the State a given employee works in, whether the employee has purchased clothes (and has a receipt or other proof), and other factors.

A worker interested in legal rights should not rely on his or her own assumptions or advice from people who are not employment attorneys.  If you are interested in speaking with an attorney, please feel free to contact me.


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It May Be Easy to File a Complaint, But Not a GOOD Complaint

Often, workers file their own employment law complaints, such as for wage or discrimination issues, because the complaints seem easy to prepare.  For example, you may have seen a complaint form on a government website, and it may look simple.  So why not complete the form and submit it?  It’s easy, right?

Know this.  Filing a complaint may be easy, but filing a GOOD legal complaint is not easy.  In fact, it’s very difficult for someone who is not an attorney to prepare a good legal complaint that presents your strongest case.  A good legal complaint involves:

– Knowledge and evaluation of ALL potential legal claims to ensure you are considering all your possible rights and options;

– Knowledge of the potential VALUE of a legal claim if you win, and whether that value is worth pursuing when compared to potential investments of time, work and/or money on your part;

– Deciding whether it’s a good idea to pursue ANY legal complaint, or if other courses of action are better (e.g. having an attorney write a settlement offer letter to the employer first, etc.);

– Choosing the BEST claims to pursue;

– When writing a complaint, being accurate, and including all necessary information supporting the best legal claims;

– Not including irrelevant information in the complaint that distracts, and/or upsets, the legal decision-makers who review the complaint; and

– Knowledge of the PROCESS involved after a complaint is filed, and planning for that process and associated responsibilities.

I don’t write all this to discourage you from pursuing a legal complaint.  Rather, I want to encourage you to think about the issues above.  If you are able to talk to an attorney in advance (and obviously it doesn’t have to be me), that can help you sort through important issues before you make mistakes.  Those issues are in fact complicated, however simple an initial complaint form may seem to appear.

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Getting Your Unpaid Wages Is a PROCESS

Before they retained us, many underpaid workers we represent had tried to get their unpaid wages by themselves and without an attorney. The workers tried to (1) get the wages directly from the employer, via complaining or negotiating; (2) filed a legal complaint with a government agency; or (3) took both of these actions.

Many underpaid workers who take action without an attorney are unsuccessful. There are a number of reasons for this, not all of which we’ll discuss in this article.

But one big reason underpaid workers fail to obtain their wages is this: they do not know that obtaining unpaid wages is a process.

Flow chart of the decision-making process iden...

You cannot expect unpaid wages to be paid to you until the required process has been completed.  Much like a baby cannot be born unless and until a process (namely, pregnancy) has taken place, as well as the related passage of time needed for that process (often, close to 9 months), and the related work (addressing medical needs, dietary and physical needs, etc.).

Do you know all the different processes that could lead to you obtaining your unpaid wages?  Do you know all the potential risks and benefits of pursuing each process (and are you SURE about that)? Do you know which process is the best one to pursue?  Do you know how much time that process is likely to take, and all the work/tasks that are necessary for that process?

If you don’t have good answers to these questions, an experienced wage attorney will.  That’s not to say you must retain an attorney, or that you must pursue any particular process.  But if you fail to realize there IS a process involved with an unpaid wage matter, and fail to consider the questions above, then you are less likely to be successful in obtaining your unpaid wages and otherwise achieving what you want to.

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Pursuing Unpaid Wages? Get Your Ducks in a Row

get your ducks in a row!

Image by debaird™ via Flickr

If you’re a worker who believes you’re owed unpaid wages, there are a few pressing things to consider upfront, such as: (1) learning legal deadlines that may apply; and (2) promptly organizing information and documents that describe the unpaid wage issues, i.e. getting your ducks in a row.

When a worker with unpaid wages contacts me about potentially representing him or her– and when that worker has already prepared and organized documentation, such as spreadsheet summaries of estimated hours and wages, pay stubs in chronological order, policies applying to hours and wages, etc.– this makes everything more efficient.

I can more efficiently evaluate potential claims and options, and if legal action is pursued, that can usually occur more promptly, efficiently and effectively as well.

If your ducks are in a row, you’re more likely to hit the ground running. Okay, I’ll stop with the cliches.

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DOL-Timesheet for iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad on the iTunes App Store


The U.S. Department of Labor recently created a smartphone-application (“app”), posted at this website, for workers to use to track their work hours and verify correct wages are being paid by their employers.

The app, which is free, allows workers to keep their own work-hour records, as there are often situations where their employers’ records of hours differ. For example, some employers fail to record or pay workers for hours the employer deems non-compensable time. In some cases employers exclude time their employees spend on work phone calls or work emails at home, or the employer makes deductions for designated break times or travel times for which work was actually performed and payable under wage laws.

In short, in some instances employers’ time records and wage payments are wrong, and employees are entitled more wages (including overtime) based on wage laws and the employee’s more complete records. This app helps workers become more mindful and accurate if such issues arise.

The app is currently available for iPhone and iPod Touch (with more smartphone platforms possibly to be added later), in English and Spanish.

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“Salaried” Workers With Hours Docked May Be Overtime-Eligible


If you are a worker paid a salary, then you may be ineligible for overtime pay, assuming other circumstances exist as well. (Being paid a salary is one of multiple criteria that must be met before an employer can consider you overtime-exempt).

However, some workers who are called “salaried” workers by their employers are not paid on a “salaried basis” as defined by overtime law, and are in fact eligible for overtime because of their non-salaried status under the law.

If an employer docks wages from a “salaried worker,” this can be a major no-no that can change the worker from “salaried” to hourly (overtime-eligible) status under the law.

For example, if on a given day a salaried worker leaves work four (4) hours early for personal reasons, an employer cannot dock the worker 4 hours wages for the missing work time.  As another example, an employer cannot dock a salaried worker an 8 hour day if the employer did not have work available, but the worker was able and willing to work the 8 hour day.

There are some exceptions, and circumstances where an employer can dock pay without affecting a worker’s salaried basis status.

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has a Fact Sheet describing the salaried basis test, and how an employer’s docking of a worker’s wages can mean a worker– despite being called “salaried”– is not salaried for overtime law purposes.

If you have been docked hours and wages, despite being told you are paid by salary, you may want to review DOL’s Fact Sheet above in detail, and other information about salaried basis pay and overtime laws, to clarify whether the employer should be paying you overtime wages.

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Overtime Pay for Not-So- “Independent” Contractors

Two construction workers at work.

Image via Wikipedia

Often, employers will classify a worker as an “independent contractor” — and many times the worker agrees to this categorization– and the worker is not paid overtime for hours worked over 40 per week.

However, if you are a worker who is called an “independent contractor,” that categorization may not apply for overtime-law purposes and more understanding of the law can help you determine whether you are eligible for overtime pay.

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Wage Issues? Tip #10: Avoid Signing Documents You Disagree With

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

Tip #10 is this: Don’t Sign Documents the Employer Presents That You Disagree With, or Believe to Be False.

If you have unpaid wages, and an employer approaches you with a document to sign relating to the unpaid wages, chances are that document benefits the employer.

I am aware of employers who asked workers to sign off on:

  • Timecards or payroll documents with underreported wages. For example, some employers make automatic1/2-hour pay deductions for a lunch period everyday, despite the worker having to work through the lunch period many days. Such documentation should reflect your actual hours and pay before you should be made to sign off on it.
  • Settlement agreements that pay significantly less wages than the law requires.  Some employers, to their credit, self-identify wage underpayments and approach workers with settlement agreements in which the employers agree to pay the workers if the workers agree to waive potential legal claims. However, employers’ initial settlement offers (especially if the employees do not have attorneys) usually offer significantly less than the legally-required wages and/or damages. If it’s possible to have an attorney review and advise about a proposed settlement before applicable deadlines, this can be of assistance in potentially negotiating or winning a larger payment and avoiding potential pitfalls.
  • An arbitration agreement.  These agreements (if signed by the employee) take away the employee’s right to go to court for an employment dispute, and in some instances take away the right to participate in a class action lawsuit. The employee must participate in arbitration, a process which lacks the full rights available in court, and often involves an arbitrator hand-selected by the employer, who has routinely dealt with the employer’s matters. Employers’ ability to impose one-sided arbitration agreements became even more severe due to the Supreme Court’s AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion decision, which allows arbitration agreements to (1) limit employment disputes to an arbitration forum (and prohibit court as a forum); AND (2) take away an employee’s right to participate in a class action, whether in court or in arbitration.
  • False documentation, such as false work-leave forms, that serve the employer’s benefit.  This type of issue is common with H-1B workers, where some H-1B employers will try to get H-1B workers to sign forms indicating the workers took leaves of absence they did not in fact take. The H-1B employers who do this are often trying to cover up their “benching” of the workers and failure to pay the required wage.  If you are an H-1B worker (or employee of any kind) whose employer is confronting you with a false form, you should not sign the form and seek legal counsel before considering signature of something you know to be false and against your interests.

Please give careful time and thought to such documents before you sign them. If an employer is rushing or pressuring you to sign such documents, that is an even worse sign that the employer wants to act against your interests and not allow you a fair opportunity.

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Wage Issues? Tip #9: Don’t Drop the A- (Attorney-) Bomb

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

Tip #9 is this: Don’t Drop the A- (Attorney-) Bomb—that is, don’t tell the employer you have an attorney unless you really have an attorney and that attorney tells you to tell the employer you have an attorney.

Okay, that was a mouthful!

But as an attorney, I am often consulted by workers who– before they ever consulted with me or with another attorney– threatened the employer that they had done so.

I’ve even had workers who’d I’d never represented, and who’d never contacted me before, send their employers emails with my email address cc’d, to give the employer the impression that the workers had retained me.

Please do not make “A”-bomb threats like these!

Here’s why:

  • Employers often view attorney threats as empty threats, thinking that if you really were going to have an attorney go after the employer, the employer would have heard that from the attorney, not from you.
  • Employers who do believe the threat (1) will often try to hide their tracks and take concealed actions against you, now that you tipped them off you’re considering getting an attorney; and/or (2) will often try to get you to agree to a lowball settlement offer, before you get an attorney involved who may advise you of a higher potential case value and settlement valuation. Often, the employer does not offer a thing in result of the threat– I get inquiries from worker who were not only unsuccessful in that their A-Bomb threat got them no offer of wages or settlement money, but further, their threat resulted in the employer retaliating and/or firing them.
  • The threat rarely works as well as actually getting a wage attorney.

When I represent workers with unpaid wages, the decision about when and how to inform the employer of me being retained is a very careful and well-planned decision.

When a worker makes that decision before consulting with me, the news is often delivered in ways that I wouldn’t have advised– too soon, too late, too angrily, too vaguely, etc.

It’s a significant decision to tell the employer about an attorney or potential legal action. Please consider talking to an attorney before you tell the employer you’re in contact with an attorney.

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Wage Issues? Tip #7: Use a Date Calculator to Help With Calculations of Deadlines and/or Unpaid Wages

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

Tip #7 is this: use a date calculator to help with calculations of deadlines and/or unpaid wages.

For years, I have used a website date calculator, like this one, to help me calculate legal deadlines (statutes of limitations) and/or unpaid wages.

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