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Unpaid Wages and Recovering Back Pay

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The Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor (WHD) reports that it recovered nearly 1.6 billion dollars in back wages on behalf of US workers since 2009. “Back wages” are the difference between what a worker should have been paid and what the worker actually was paid for his or her labor. In 2015 alone, the WHD recovered $246 million in back wages on behalf of over 240,000 workers, representing a recovery of about $676,000 per day for the whole year.  Agency-initiated investigations in 2015 revealed violations in 79% of investigated workplaces, representing a 21% increase over the same statistic for 2009. On average, WHD investigations found over $1000 worth in back wages due for each employee. $1000 can represent over a month’s worth of rent, more than five weeks of groceries, or more than three months of utility bills. For some lower-wage workers, this represents multiple weeks of work. Lack of payment for multiple weeks of work can have a significant impact on the lives of workers.

The WHD also reports thousands of overtime and minimum wage violations per year, which can have significant effects on the lives of workers similar to those caused by unpaid back wages.

Despite these massive numbers, the WHD claims it will “never have enough investigators to examine every business” meaning there is a high likelihood that a large amount of back pay and overtime violations are still going unnoticed and unpaid to the deserving workers. These unpaid wages can have a significant effect on the lives of workers, and thus increased efforts into recovering back pay on behalf of workers and their families are necessary.

Workers must be paid time-and-a-half for any hours worked past forty per week or eight per day, unless they fall within narrow exceptions to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Businesses are also obligated to provide adequate meal and rest periods for workers. If you know of a business withholding back pay to its workers, failing to adequately compensate workers for overtime, or failing to provide meal and rest periods, contact our office.

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