What are your rights if you are not paid at least minimum wage?

Assuming you are entitled to minimum wage, you have a number of rights under Ohio and federal law to recover your wages and enforce the law.

First, you have the option to file a complaint with the Department of Labor or the Ohio Department of Commerce. Both the DOL and DOC are government agencies that are tasked with investigating unpaid wage claims on behalf of citizens. If appropriate, the agencies can even file a lawsuit on your behalf to recover your wages.

You should note that the Department of Labor enforces the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. The Ohio Department of Commerce enforces Ohio’s Minimum Fair Wage Standards Act. It is unclear whether the DOC will actually enforce Ohio’s more favorable minimum wage constitutional provision (Article II, Section 34a) or only enforce the less favorable Fair Wage statute (R.C. 4111.14).1 Therefore, if you contact these agencies for help, you should proceed with caution and know that they may not seek all of the relief to which you are entitled.

Second, you can file a private lawsuit to recover your unpaid wages. Depending on whether you include claims under the Fair Labor Standards Act and what company you sue, you could end up in Ohio state court or federal court. Most wage and hour cases go to federal court because they include FLSA claims.

If you win your case, you are entitled to more than just your unpaid wages. Under Ohio law, you are entitled to an additional two times your unpaid minimum wages. Under federal law, you are entitled to an additional amount equal to your unpaid minimum wages.

Because of the additional damages under federal and Ohio law, employees who successfully bring a wage and hour lawsuit can recover substantial amounts. For example, let’s say you are a tipped restaurant server and you were forced to participate in an illegal tip pool. Under the FLSA, if you worked 40 hours per week in all of 2015, then you could recover $16,848 (40 hours x 52 weeks x $4.05 (the amount of minimum wage that you weren’t paid) x 2 (liquidated damages under the Fair Labor Standards Act).

In addition, you can also recover your reasonable attorneys fees and costs from your employer. For that reason, even smaller claims can be worthwhile for attorneys to bring on your behalf. Because the fees are shifted to the employer, it is common for employees to not have to pay any portion of their recovered wages as attorneys fees.

Markovits, Stock & DeMarco

The legal team at Markovits, Stock & DeMarco has the expertise to assist you with any minimum wage issues you might have.

But what if you don’t want to file a lawsuit yet?

Maybe you want the wages you are owed, but don’t want to file a formal lawsuit or complaint yet. You can ask your employer to pay you the minimum wages due. As long as you make your request appropriately, the law strictly prohibits your employer from retaliating against you. For more information on that topic, check the retaliation/whistleblower information on this site. Generally, it is worthwhile to engage an attorney to advise you on how to protect yourself while asking for your unpaid wages.

It is very important to keep in mind that there are strict time limits on you taking action to recover unpaid minimum wages. The statute of limitations under Ohio’s minimum wage constitutional amendment is three years. The statute of limitations for minimum wage claims under the Fair Labor Standards Act is two years or three years, depending on how your employer acted.

If you don’t file a complaint within the time limit, you lose your right to ever be paid those wages. Make sure you act promptly!