There is a concerning trend in North Carolina of employers not paying their employees what they’re owed. Companies are frequently getting caught forcing their employees to work off the clock, depriving their employees of overtime pay, or refusing to honor bonus or vacation benefits. Fortunately, the North Carolina Wage and Hour Act provides North Carolina employees with a legal mechanism to get what they have earned from their employer, and we can help.
Am I an “employee”?
The Wage and Hour Act only provides protections for “employees” of the company. Individual contractors are not included within the Wage and Hour Act’s protections. Whether you are considered an employee or independent contract depends on the specific facts in your case. Typically, courts will look to the degree of control the alleged employer has over the individual when determining whether they are an “employee” under the law. A good lawyer can help you evaluate whether you are likely to qualify as an “employee” based on the circumstances of your relationship with your company.
What wages are protected?
Under the Wage and Hour Act, employers must pay all wages earned by an employee on the regular payday when the wages are due. Those wages must include all overtime compensation, which is defined as the number of hours in excess 40 hours per week earned at a rate of 150% of your regular wage. You are also entitled to all bonuses and commissions you have earned under your terms of employment with the company. You may also be entitled to paid vacation and tips under the law, so long as they are included in the terms of your employment as well.
What are my legal recourses to get these wages?
If your employer failed to pay the wages they owe, you may have a claim under the Wage and Hour Act. You may pursue this claim by filing a claim with the North Carolina Department of Labor, the U.S. Department of Labor, or by filing a lawsuit. Unlike a lot of employment claims, you may file a lawsuit without first filing a claim with either the North Carolina Department of Labor or the U.S. Department of Labor. Our lawyers can help assess your options and, if you decide to file a lawsuit, represent you in court.
What am I entitled to as damages in court?
If your Wage and Hour Act claim is successful, you will be entitled to your unpaid wages plus interest from the date the wages should have been paid. The court may also award you “liquidated damages” in the amount of the unpaid wages, essentially doubling your recovery. Your employer may escape such liquidated damages, though, if they can show that they had reasonable grounds to believe that their refusal to pay your wages was legal. The law also allows you to potentially recover your attorneys’ fees because it wants to encourage individuals to bring their claims, even if they don’t involve large amounts of unpaid wages.
How can we help?
If you have been the victim of wage theft or you just suspect that your employer is doing something fishy with your wages, it is important that you take steps to protect yourself. The North Carolina Department of Labor is a good resource, but we are here for you too. Please do not hesitate to contact one of our experienced lawyers who can speak to you confidentially and at no charge.