Fix My Job: Compensation

I’m not getting paid for all the hours I worked!

If your paycheck doesn’t look right, it probably isn’t. Don’t assume that your employer “has a system” for this and always gets it right.

In fact, many organizations – by either accident or design – underpay workers by significant amounts. The practice is frighteningly common, and we’re not talking about nickels and dimes. A study of low-wage workers in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles found that one out of four were paid less than minimum wage. Some were cheated out of as much as $1 an hour, with the average paycheck shorted by $51 per week. That adds up to more than $2,600 a year – which ain’t chump change, no matter how much you are earning.

It’s not just low-wage workers who are underpaid; the problem affects workers up and down the wage scale.

Are the hours right? You should be paid for all the hours you work, possibly including prep time, cleanup time, any time required to put on a uniform or protective clothing at work and time to travel between job sites. If you think you worked more hours than your pay stub says – you probably did.

Is the pay rate correct? Make sure you’re receiving the hourly rate you were promised. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour; with a few exceptions, your pay rate must be at least that much. Twenty nine states and the District of Columbia, and some cities, have a minimum wage higher than the federal rate. If that’s true where you live, your employer has to pay the higher rate, not the federal minimum.

Are you getting credit for overtime? If you work more than 40 hours in a seven-day week, federal law ordinarily requires your employer to pay time-and-a-half your regular rate for the extra hours.

Any funky deductions? Your employer should be paying federal, state and local income taxes on your behalf, as well as Social Security (FICA) and Medicare taxes. So these deductions from your pay are legitimate. Employers ordinarily cannot deduct for required uniforms, equipment or other items if this would reduce your pay to below the federal, state or local minimum wage.

What to do if your paycheck is wrong:

  1. Report it right away to your boss or human resources: Assume it’s an honest mistake and ask for an immediate correction. You should get your unpaid wages in your next check, if not sooner. Otherwise, you’re lending your boss money at no interest.
  2. Keep your own records: Make a note of when you arrive at work and when you leave. Include all prep time, cleanup time, travel to and from job sites, and all breaks less than 20 minutes. Note the rate of pay you were promised, and whether you worked over 40 hours in a week. The U.S. Department of Labor has a work hours calendar you can use, or create your own. Consider asking your boss, or a co-worker, to initial your entries.
  3. Talk to your co-workers: If you’re getting underpaid on a consistent basis, you’re probably not the only one. Find out if anyone else at work has this problem. You’ll get more attention from your boss, and ordinarily have more legal protection, if you act together.
  4. Talk to your boss, or to human resources: Approach your employer as a group, if possible, and let them know your paychecks are wrong and you want the pay you are due, ASAP. You’re not asking for a raise or something extra; you’re insisting that you be paid what you are owed.
  5. File a complaint:  If your boss won’t respond to your concerns about payment under the minimum wage or failure to pay a premium for overtime hours, you can file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor, Wages and Hour Division, which enforces the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). You can also contact thestate labor agency in the state where you live.
  6. Contact an attorney: You can sue an employer for violating the FLSA and/or most state wage and hour laws. You can do so individually or get together with your co-workers and bring a class or collective action. That may make it easier for you to find a lawyer to take the case. Class action lawsuits have been filed against large employers like Walmart and Sodexo, which are alleged to have underpaid employees.

Useful Links

Article: “Wage Theft: A a Crime without Punishment,”

Government agency: “State Labor Offices,” U.S. Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division



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