You get direct deposit, so you never have to cash your checks. This means you don’t study them too carefully. Then, when you finally do, you realize that someone made a mistake and you’ve been getting paid too little. Maybe it’s just a mistake for one pay period, or maybe they have been underpaying you for years. Now what?
You can file a complaint with the Wage and Hour Division (WHD) of the Department of Labor. Typically, if the WHD investigates and finds that your claims have merit, they will tell your employer to give you back pay to make up the difference. It’s a simple solution that gives you the money you were owed, albeit later than you should have gotten it.
These orders are simple when a clear mistake led to the reduced pay. Someone in payroll thought you were supposed to earn $15 per hour when your employment contract clearly states that you should earn $20 per hour, for instance.
Things do get more complicated if your employer intentionally or willfully underpaid you. This can lead to fines for your employer, along with back pay for you. Multiple willful violations can even lead to criminal charges and jail time. Naturally, for these ramifications to kick in, it must be shown that your employer knowingly and intentionally attempted to pay you less than you were owed for the time worked.
All in all, if you think that you are not getting paid fairly, you do not just have to accept it. You have rights, and it’s important to understand what legal steps you can take.