Employees in the United States enjoy the protection of federal wage laws, state wage laws, or sometimes both. If you have any reasonable grounds to believe that your employer may have violated wage laws – such as failing to pay you overtime or minimum wage – you have every right to file a lawsuit to recover any unpaid wages.
However, there is a time limit under the law which you are required to make the filing. This time limit is referred to as Statute of Limitation.
Unpaid wages claim limit under federal laws
According to the Fair Labor Standards Act, you are required to file a lawsuit within two years from the date your employer violated your wage rights. If the violation is ongoing, the law allows you to recover unpaid wages for a period of two years before filing the claim.
For instance, if you are filing a lawsuit against your employer for failing to pay you minimum wages since May 1, 2013, and you wait till July 1, 2016, to make the application, under the law, you will seek unpaid wages from July 1, 2014, to July 1, 2016.
The statute of limitations may be extended to three years under the federal laws for unpaid wages claims if the employer willfully violated the provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Acts. An FLSA violation becomes willful if the employer knew they were acting contrary to the provisions of FLSA or they showed reckless disregard on whether their conduct was prohibited by the provisions of the act.
Unpaid wages claim limit under state laws
Different states have different have various wage and hour laws, together with respective Statute of Limitation for making applications for wage lawsuits. The Statute of Limitation will vary from one state to another depending on many factors such as the specific type of wage violation committed by the employer.
For example, a state like New Jersey has a two-year limit for minimum wage and overtime violations, while in California, there is a three-year statute of limitation on most wage violations.
Should you go for a wage claim or a lawsuit?
For violations touching on the FLSA, aggrieved parties are allowed to file a wage claim with the United States Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division. This should, however, be done before the two-year statute of limitation period is over. In that manner, you will have adequate time to consider a lawsuit if the Department of Labor does not successfully resolve your claims.
In most of the states, you are also free to file a wage claim with the state’s department of labor, but you must bear in mind that different states have different Statute of Limitation for making the allegations. For example, in a state like Delaware, the filing must be done at least 90 days before the statute of limitation is set to expire.
Additionally, some states will only accept wage claims if they meet specific threshold amounts. For example, in New Jersey, you can’t file wage claims less than $30,000 and below.
Always consult a lawyer
If you are convinced, you have a genuine reason to file for unpaid wages, always consult with an employment lawyer. They will help in identifying all the wage laws that your employer might have violated and evaluate them per the relevant state and federal laws.
They will also advise on the deadlines and Statute of Limitation on such applications so that your case is not thrown out on technicality grounds.