If you work for someone, you should get paid for that work: period. It’s clear to most people that it is illegal to pay someone less than what was promised, or less than they are legally obligated to pay. However, there are many forms of wage theft and unpaid wage issues that are less clear or easily recognizable to the average person. This is why it is essential to know your rights, know when they are being violated, and know when it is time to ask an experienced NYC unpaid compensation attorney to help.
There are many rules and laws on the books (in NYC, in Manhattan State, and in the US at large) that ensure that workers receive the wages they are owed and promised for their contracted labor. Employers sometimes break these laws in a number of different ways.
Unpaid Minimum Wage: The federal minimum wage is $7.25/hour. However, the minimum wage in NYC (which includes Bronx, Queens, Kings, Manhattan, and Richmond Counties) is significantly higher. The current NYC minimum wage is $15/hour.
This applies to all employees in NYC, with a few specific exceptions. Some examples include:
Certain government employees
Ministers and members of religious orders
Students obtaining vocational experience
Volunteers, learners, apprentices, and students working in non-profit institutions
Independent contractors (who are not considered “employees”)
“Professionals” (see below)
Tipped workers in certain industries also have a different minumum wage system. Employers in these industries can satisfy the $15/hour minimum wage requirement by combining a “cash wage” paid by them with a credit/allowance for tips that their employees can expect to receive from customers.
One example is food service. Food service workers in NYC still have the same mandatory minimum wage of $15/hour. However, a food service employer can satisfy that minumum wage by combining a lower cash wage (of least $10/hour) with a tip allowance (no more than $5/hour). In these industries, employers are not allowed to keep any portion of any tip that their employees receive.
If an employer violates minimum wage requirements, either by not providing a $15/hour minimum wage (or, for tipped workers, by not providing at least a $10 cash wage, and/or by taking any portion of any employee’s tips), they can be held liable for a withheld wages claim.
Unpaid Overtime: The federal law guaruntees time-and-a-half for most employees who work more than 40 hours in a week (or 44 hours in a week, for live-in domestic workers).
There are certain exemptions to the overtime, the most common of which are referred to as the “white collar exemptions.” This excludes workers who qualify as:
Executives: High-level managerial employees that have hiring and firing power.
Professionals: Employees in fields that require advanced degrees/specialized training or licensure, with duties that are largely intellectual. Examples include doctors, nurses, architects, lawyers, engineers, pharmacists, and professors, as well as “creative professionals” in the arts (like artists, musicians, actors, and creative writers).
Administrators: Nonmanual office employees whose work relates to the management/regular business operations of the company, and who are authorized to make relatively important independent decisions. Examples include professionals that specialize in taxes, finance/budgeting, marketing, research, public relations, IT, and human resources.
Beyond those exceptions and a few others which are much less common, most workers are guarunteed overtime. This includes certain types of salaried workers. “Salaried” simply means your employer has agreed to pay you a certan amount for every pay period. It does not automatically exempt someone from qualifying for overtime.
If your employer denies you rightful overtime, you can file an unpaid overtime claim against them and collect at least an additional 50% of your regular rate for every overtime-eligible hour.
Unauthorized Wage Deductions: Some employers will deduct costs from employees’ wages. There are a number of strikingly common deductions that employers make which are actualy illegal. Examples include deductions for the cost of uniforms, deductions for alleged property damage, and deductions for alleged cash shortages. If you see any deduction from your wages along those lines, it may not be legal, and you may be able to pursue that matter legally.
Unpaid Wage Supplements: As part of an employment arrangement, employers often offer wage supplements. These include things like earned vacation pay, earned holiday pay, and earned bonuses. Importantly, you are owed promised, earned wage supplements whether they were promised to you as part of your official employment contract or not. Even a verbal promise of these supplements counts as a promise since you worked while expecting those supplement in return.
If your employer promised you a wage supplement and then denied it to you, you can pursue an unpaid wage supplement claim against them.
Denial of Breaks and Meals: All NYC employees who work more than 6 hours are entitled to breaks at certain times throughout the day. Depending on when an employee works, they may be entitled certain specific meal breaks, such as:
A 30-minute lunch break (between 11AM and 2PM)
A 20-minute dinner break (between 5PM and 7PM)
A 45-minute mid-shift meal break (for employees who work late-starting shifts between 1PM and 6AM).
It is imperative that employees are fully relieved of all work (including even sitting at their desk or waiting for the phone to ring). Fully relieved meal breaks can be unpaid, but if you are required to perform any work duties at all, then you must be paid for that time. You must also be paid for all breaks under 20 minutes (including bathroom breaks and rest breaks).
If your employer broke any of the rules involving breaks, they may have stolen your wages, and you may be able to pursue a claim against them legally.
Are you an NYC employee who has not been properly compensated for their labor? Do you believe your employer may have denied you overtime, supplements, minimum wage, or any other type of wage or compensation owed to you? An experienced, knowledgeable employment lawyer can help. In NYC, the go-to employment lawyer for unpaid compensation is David Rich. Attorney Rich will help you pursue all claims and damages owed to you, and will ensure that you get the just compensation that you deserve. Don’t wait! Reach out today at (347) 941-0760 for a consultation on your case.
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