Risking My Job By Asking for Overtime?

Dear Compliance Man,

I’m a construction worker and since I’ve worked for my boss I’ve never seen overtime. There are times when I’ll work well over 40 hours and not get overtime. Isn’t this illegal?

You’re probably thinking: why don’t you just say something to your boss? I guess I never had the courage, but I’m meeting with him today and I’m going to say something about all of this. I’m nervous, but this is my life and I work very hard for my living and I just want what’s mine. If it turns out that I’m being ripped off can I get back pay?

–Shorted in Sturbridge

Dear Shorted,

Thanks for writing. Your suspicions are right on the money. You should be getting at least time and a half your regular hourly rate anytime you work more than 40 hours in a week. The good news is that you can get some of that money back by filing a claim for overtime under either the federal or state minimum wage laws.

As you prepare to file your claim, it’s a good idea to try to assemble as much documentation as you can–pay stubs, your own notes about when and where you worked–anything that shows a history of your employer breaking the law. Keep in mind that there is a statute of limitation for overtime claims, meaning that you have to file your claim within a certain period of time, two years for overtime claims, three years for prevailing wage claims. Also, under state law, you may be entitled to triple damages if it’s determined that your employer’s violations were “intentional.” In addition, if you make a claim under state law and it is successful, you’re also entitled to collect attorney’s fees. Both the federal and state statutes prohibit retaliation against you because you file a claim for overtime wages due under the law.

If this sounds confusing–and legal matters almost always are–give us a call at 1-877-507-3247. We’d be happy to help you prepare your claim.

Good luck!

For more commonly asked Compliance Man questions, visit the Compliance Man archives. Send your question to info@ffcm.org.

Often Owned Overtime

Dear Compliance Man:

My husband works for a small construction company in Western Massachusetts. He gets several different rates of pay, depending on the job, but his base pay is lower. My question is about his overtime.

His employer will only pay him “straight time” not time and a half. Also, this pay is paid cash, and not regularly. Instead of receiving weekly overtime pay, it accumulates until my husband asks for some of his overtime pay. Then the boss will include a couple hundred dollars in his paycheck envelope. They are not offering us an accounting of how many overtime hours he has accumulated, what has been paid, etc., even though I’ve asked for it. Financially this is difficult for us—we certainly could use the money weekly, not just when we get desperate and need to ask for it. The boss claims we are “better off” receiving the money as cash, but I’m not so sure.

–Frustrated and barely making ends meet


Dear Frustrated:

It sounds like you have every right to feel frustrated! If your husband’s boss only paid him when he felt like it, that would be a clear violation of state and federal laws. His overtime shenanigans aren’t legal either.

Overtime is calculated on a weekly basis and is triggered when an employee works over 40 hours that week. Employees must be paid in full, including overtime, within six days of the end of the pay period. That means that any time your husband works more than 40 hours in a single week, his next pay check must reflect that.

As for being paid in cash, his employer is within the law on this one, but he is required to give you the accounting you asked for. Whether payment is made via cash or check (promissory notes or IOUs aren’t legal), it must be accompanied by a list of hours worked including overtime, hourly rate and any deductions that have been taken out. Our state and federal governments enacted these worker protections in order that workers like your husband would be “better off.”

The most important thing that your husband can do is keep track of exactly how many hours he’s working, regular and overtime, and at what rate. If he concludes that his boss is underpaying him, then it may be time to consider filing a claim with the Attorney General’s office. The FFCM will gladly help him with this (we’re sending along a log book that your husband may find helpful), and will also be happy to provide his employer with a little refresher course on the law.

Thanks for writing!

For more commonly asked Compliance Man questions, visit the Compliance Man archives. Send your question to info@ffcm.org.