My former company refused to pay me overtime, so I filed a claim with the U.S. Department of Labor. The department investigated and ruled in my favor. But I have yet to collect a dime from the company. The Labor Department has sent a letter to the employer demanding payment, but the company still hasn't paid. Can it just refuse to pay? And what are my options if the company goes out of business before it pays me?
You have options for getting your money. They aren't the easiest routes to victory but could get you what you want nonetheless.
Federal labor law permits you to take the company to court over the unpaid wages. So you could get a lawyer to sue on your behalf, if it's cost-effective. Increasing numbers of employment lawyers have successfully sued companies that violate the Fair Labor Standards Act, which requires employers to pay eligible employees overtime when they work more than 40 hours in a week, among other things.
You also can file claims for up to $3,000 in a small claims court, where you represent yourself.
When a violation involves a large number of employees, the Labor Department has filed lawsuits to recoup the back wages, but it doesn't have the resources to do that for individuals.
Even if the company goes out of business you still have options: You could file a claim form with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court. Yours might wind up being one of hundreds of claims, depending on the size of the company, but wages have priority over many other pending business debts.
Carrie Mason-Draffen is a columnist for Newsday.