So you’ve found yourself in a very uncomfortable and exceedingly difficult situation—you’ve worked hours at your job for which you haven’t been paid, or perhaps you’ve worked “off the clock.” Making matters worse, you bring this information to your employer’s attention and you are notified that you will not be receiving overtime pay. Unless your employer is not covered by federal law or you are correctly classified as an exempt employee, you may very well have a claim for compensation and damages under federal or state law.
If you find yourself in this situation, you’ll probably receive your rightful compensation only by hiring an attorney and filing a lawsuit under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”). With that in mind, it is important to first know what damages are available for workers in your circumstances. Generally speaking, the relief that is most important to you—money—is available in a few different forms under the FLSA: (1) unpaid overtime owed; (2) an award of liquidated damages; (3) punitive damages in rare cases; and (4) attorney’s fees and costs that were incurred in connection to your claim. In addition to this financial relief, equitable relief in the form of injunctions may be available.
Here’s a closer look at each form of relief, both monetary and non-monetary, available under the FLSA:
Back Wages Award
The damages provision of the FLSA, contained in 29 U.S.C. § 216, requires employers that violate the FLSA to pay affected employees “the amount of their unpaid minimum wages, or their unpaid overtime compensation.” Stated simply, employers are obligated to pay the back wages that an employee should have received had the employer followed the law.
Liquidated Damages Award
In addition to awarding unpaid overtime compensation, the FLSA requires violating companies to pay what are called “liquidated” damages to employees who were not properly compensated. Liquidated damages are an amount equal to the unpaid compensation or back wages award, which essentially allows employees to receive double their unpaid compensation for an FLSA violation unless the employer can show it acted in good faith and with a reasonable belief that it was not violating the FLSA. In the event the violation was willful, employees will be able to recover double back pay for the preceding three years, as opposed to the two-year period for non-willful FLSA violations.
Depending on the jurisdiction where the employer is located, employers that willfully violate the Fair Labor Standards Act may also be subjected to the possibility of punitive damages. Some federal circuit courts of appeal have declared that punitive damages are not available for FLSA violations, while other circuits have concluded that such relief is available for egregious wage and hour violations. This discrepancy in the law requires you to know the prevailing law of your particular jurisdiction to maximize your claim.
The FLSA authorizes equitable relief in the form of injunctions for overtime violations. Equitable relief can specifically be used to prevent future FLSA violations, to halt products made as a result of FLSA violations from entering the stream of commerce (known as the “Hot Goods” provision), and, where necessary, to obtain unpaid compensation.
Attorney’s Fees and Costs
The Fair Labor Standards Act requires employers to pay “reasonable” attorney’s fees to a prevailing plaintiff, and this award must be paid in the event of a judgment or a court-approved settlement. Most plaintiffs’ attorneys handling FLSA cases represent workers on a contingency basis, and courts may award fees based on a percentage basis or on what is called a “lode star” amount, which is a multi-factor evaluation of a reasonable fee under the circumstances. Prevailing plaintiffs, in addition, are entitled to an award of costs incurred for pursuing a FLSA lawsuit.
In the event you have not been paid for time you spent at your job, you should know your rights under the Fair Labor Standards Act and what relief might be available to you. If you think you may have grounds for an unpaid overtime lawsuit based on a FLSA violation, or if you are an employer who has been accused of a wage and hour violations, please contact Robert E. Byrne, Jr., the author of this article, at (434) 817-3100, toll free at (855) 812-9220, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about overtime disputes, please see Bob’s article, Am I Entitled to Overtime Pay?
Robert E. Byrne, Jr. is an AV-rated attorney who represents both employees and employers as a Virginia Overtime Attorney and Virginia Employment Law Attorney. Bob practices as a trial attorney throughout Virginia with the Charlottesville-based law firm MartinWren, P.C., and he has been recognized multiple times by Super Lawyers Magazine and named a Top Rated Lawyer by The American Lawyer magazine. In addition to his work as a trial lawyer, Bob also serves as the managing attorney of MartinWren, P.C. For more information about the big picture of employment law, please check out Bob’s article, Sources of Employment Law.