When was the last time you looked at your pay stub? If you’re like me, you trust your employer and assume that you are getting paid correctly every week without having to review your pay stub. However, if you are like many of my unlucky clients, you have your pay stubs organized in binders, highlighted and indexed by date. This is because you caught your employer ripping you off, and now, in addition to putting in a 40 hour workweek, you have to spend your free time each week checking to make sure you aren’t being ripped off again.
Employers have a number of tricks they use to short employees on wages, but it’s overtime pay that they desperately seek to minimize through a number of well-known tricks. One trick is to improperly classify their employees as ineligible for overtime wages, either by incorrectly insisting that they are interns, independent contractors, volunteers or other overtime ineligible workers, or by insisting that their employees are exempt from the laws that require them to be paid overtime. Companies knowingly misclassify their workers as overtime ineligible because the benefits of doing so far outweigh compliance, and by the time they are caught and sued, the cost of fixing the problem is negligible when compared with the amounts saved over the years by the illegal practice. Aside from misclassifying employees, another dirty trick employers often use is to force workers to work “off the clock,” by requiring that they perform work without getting paid, often in small increments before or after their shift or scheduled hours. The unpaid wages add up, especially since the unpaid work performed is often in addition to an employee’s normal 40 hour workweek and therefore overtime qualifying.
Our firm practices primarily in Manhattan and Brooklyn, and we bring a number of lawsuits for unpaid overtime wages, most of them class actions. Of the cases I have seen in Brooklyn during my career, most of them have been of the “off the clock” variety. I have a theory on why this is so – the industries and employers who employ people in Brooklyn are of the type that are more likely to properly classify workers as overtime eligible but insist that they perform work off the clock and without getting paid. Those industries include health care, hospitality, retail and manufacturing. The employees who work in these industries typically work in positions that are broadly known to be overtime qualifying, so dirty trick number #1 is not an option for their employers. Instead, these industries are known for requiring off the clock work by, for example, forcing food service workers in a restaurant to set up the tables at their stations before their shift starts while they are not being paid. If you are one of these employees, and if you catch your employer “shaving time” from your pay check, or simply not paying you for certain activities, don’t bother spending energy during your free time tracking down the underpayments. Just gather your pay stubs and all of your employment related documents and call a lawyer that specializes in recovery of unpaid overtime wages. You can and should turn this over to someone who can truly do something about it, and it will be a huge weight off your mind. Nobody should have to police their employer, so do yourself a favor and find a lawyer…and another job.