The facts are simple: it is illegal for your employer to not pay you on time. Under the Department of Labor’s Fair Labor Standards Act and the Massachusetts Wage Act, an employer must pay an employee when payment is due — whether that’s once a month, every two weeks, or in some cases, as frequently as every day, depending on what state you live in and your profession. Violation of these laws is sometimes referred to as "wage theft" because, by failing to pay you what you are supposed to be paid for your work, the employer is in effect stealing your wages.
In Massachusetts, employees must be paid weekly or biweekly (note: regulations are different for union workers, who can be paid less frequently depending on union negotiations). Massachusetts law also requires employers to provide earned sick time for their employees; this includes part-time and temporary employees.
In Massachusetts, employees must be paid within six days of the end of the payroll period, in order for payment to be timely under the Wage Act. If you are fired or laid off, you must also be paid your final paycheck- including payment for any accrued but unused vacation time- on the day of termination. If you resign or quit, you still need to be paid these amounts, but your employer can make that payment in the next regularly scheduled payroll instead of the day of resignation.
It is illegal for your employer to retaliate against you for asking to be paid appropriately under the law, or even for filing a complaint in court or with the Attorney General.
If an employer withholds your wages, it’s a serious offense that not only breaks the law but causes stress and anxiety for you, the employee. There is a reason the laws are so strict, and impose such severe penalties on employers- we recognize that all workers depend on their wages to live their own lives, pay their bills, and take care of their families, and that it is not right or fair that the employer who controls the payroll can get the benefit of your time without paying you fairly.
Here’s what wage theft looks like, and what you can do about it if it happens to you.
Some Common Examples of Problems with Unpaid Wages
Most employers try to do the right thing in terms of their workers, and make every effort to comply with the wage and hour laws. Sometimes, however, either a lack of information, misunderstanding of the rules, or cash flow pressures on a business lead to violations of those laws. Here are some examples of common errors that we see in paying wages:
Request to See the Employer’s Policy
If you’re not paid on time, or think you should have been paid for sick time and were not, request to see the employer’s policy, which includes information about sick leave, vacation, personal leave, holidays and work hours. The policy will help determine whether there has been a violation of terms of employment or not.
Make Sure It’s Not a Technical Issue
Before you file a formal complaint, do one more thing: Make sure a technical error hasn’t caused the issue by contacting your manager and payroll department. Payroll could have made a technical mistake and the whole ordeal could be an unfortunate, embarrassing accident.
While an accident is unprofessional and still doesn’t make the withheld pay justified, technical errors can often be cleared up quickly in-house with little fuss. And, even though you are absolutely protected from retaliation for pursuing a wage claim, if you can get the situation resolved without putting strain on the employment relationship, it is worth trying to do so.
File a Complaint with the Attorney General
If all signs lead to withheld pay which you haven’t been able to sort out with your employer, file a formal complaint with the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office. They will either investigate your complaint or issue you a “right to sue” letter, which gives you the right to bring a private action to recover your wages and attorneys’ fees. It is important to know that, if your employer does not make it right and pay you what you are owed, you cannot bring a civil lawsuit to collect your wages unless you have first filed this form with the Attorney General's Office. If you make it clear in your complaint that you are seeking a "right to sue" letter, you should get that letter in the mail within a few weeks.
You can fill out this form without the help of a lawyer, but it is a good idea to contact an attorney as soon as you think you have a problem with unpaid wages. Understand that if your employer fails to pay you, and you get a court ruling awarding you your unpaid wages, your employer will also have to reimburse you for anything you have paid to an attorney to recover your wages. They will also be required to pay you three times the wages you were owed, unless they pay you before you file a complaint.
Usually, these situations are resolved after a lawsuit is filed. Because of the possibility of triple damages and attorneys' fees, most employers are willing to make you whole for your missed wages once they realize the potential liability.
Being a victim of withheld pay is demeaning and stressful. If your employer hasn’t paid you on time — or has withheld funds, intentionally or unintentionally — and the situation hasn’t been quickly and amicably resolved, it’s time for the experts to step in and fight for you. We have helped hundreds of people get paid after wages, commissions, or vacation time was wrongfully withheld from them. Call the loyal team at SLN Law today!