Can I Sue My Employer for Paying Less Than Minimum Wage? | Mann & Elias
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Can I Sue My Employer for Paying Less Than Minimum Wage?


Every worker in the United States is entitled to receive a set minimum wage amount. Federal law sets its base rate wage at $7.25 per hour. Each state can set its base rate wage standards. And so can each local community. As an employee, you should receive the highest stated base rate wage, whether that be federal, state, or local.

When you discover that your employer is paying you below the base rate wage, they will be held responsible for paying you the back earnings that are owed to you. However, in most cases, you won’t have to use your lawyer to sue your employer. Rather, there are many wage recovery mechanisms that you can implement to get your back earnings. Most are enforced by the Federal Department of Labor’s Wage-Hour Division or the local governing state agency.

Some Exceptions To The Laws

Any experienced Los Angeles attorney for restaurant workers can inform you that there are always exceptions to any law. While most U.S. workers will be capable of earning the minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, not all of them are. Some specific exceptions may allow an employer to pay an employee less than the base rate wage rates that govern their area. These include:

  • Independent Contractors
    People that earn money from a company but are not considered employees are referred to as independent contractors. These individuals are not guaranteed to earn the base rate wage set by local, state, or federal laws. As a general rule of thumb, employees get a W-2 while independent contractors receive 1099s.
  • Employees Who Are Tipped
    The most commonly known exception to the base rate wage rule is those who are tipped employees. Waiters and waitresses tend to come to mind in this category. Employers of tipped employees must pay a minimum of $2.13 per hour to their employees. Also, if the tipped employee doesn’t receive an income of at least $5.12 per hour from their tips, their employer must pay the difference. This ensures that the employee is making at least $7.25 per hour.
  • Younger Workers
    By law, younger workers are defined as workers who are under the age of 20 years old. These workers may receive a minimum wage of only $4.25 per hour for their first 90 consecutive days of employment. After this period, they are entitled to the full $7.25 per hour.
  • Students Who Are Full-Time
    This lesser-known rule involves workers who are full-time students. It covers those in the retail, service, and agricultural industries. These individuals are entitled to only 85 percent of the federal base rate wage. This is a rate of $6.16 per hour. This exception is commonly used at universities and colleges for teaching assistant positions.
  • Farm Workers
    Those working on small farms and in other agricultural positions are notated in a complicated exception. Since many of these workers get paid by the piece, base rate wage laws don’t always apply.
  • Student Learners
    Student-workers who participate in a vocational course like cooking or shop can be paid less than the base rate wage by the employer. The base rate wage is set at $5.44 per hour, equating to 75 percent of the federal base rate wage.

As you’ve read, the exceptions can get quite extensive. It’s always a good idea to consult with an employment lawyer in Los Angeles to understand if your job is legally an exception to federal base rate wage laws.

State Minimum Wage

State laws set base rate wage rates in your state. Some states like Alabama don’t have any policies addressing base rate wage rates. These states simply revert to the federal base rate wage of $7.25 per hour. Other states have base rate wages that are below the federal rate. For example, Wyoming has a base rate wage less than the federal base rate wage.

In other states, the minimum wage is set higher than the federal minimum wage. For example, New York has set their minimum wage at $10.40. California has a set minimum of $10.50 per hour for employers with less than 26 employees. Employers who have more than 26 employees must pay a minimum wage of $11.00 per hour.

In all of these scenarios, the higher state pay rate trumps that of the federal rate. Employers must abide by the state laws regarding minimum wage rates. It’s also important to note that some states have exceptions that aren’t addressed on the federal level. In these scenarios, whoever is more specific wins out. Your attorney can help you determine whether or not your job is considered exempt from minimum wage in your state.

What Should You Do If You’re Getting Paid Less?

The first logical action you’ll want to take regarding your pay rate is to talk with your employer. They will provide you with a reason why you’re not getting paid what you believe you should be. In some cases, your employer may not know that local laws require higher than state-set base rate wage requirements. Simply bringing this information to light is usually enough to get the back earnings owed to you.

However, in some scenarios, your employer may supply the necessary information about why you are not receiving base rate wage. You should check with a legal professional that is well-versed in handling restaurant employee discrimination cases to determine whether the reasoning is legal. If it is determined that the employer’s reasoning is illegal, you can move forward by contacting your local state agency to deal with the issue.


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