What can you recover in court if your employer has committed a wage or overtime violation?

Has your employer failed to pay you minimum wage or overtime? If so, what are you entitled to as damages?

The Fair Labor Standards Act, passed in 1938, requires employers to pay their employees at least $7.25 per hour and to pay one and a half times their regular rate for any hours worked over forty hours per week. Employers who violate the FLSA are liable for damages.

Damages are meant to compensate employees for the harm they have suffered in being paid less than minimum or in not being paid overtime. In both these scenarios, the main component of damages is the unpaid wages, or back wages.

However, the FLSA provides that employers are not only liable for back wages but also for an additional equal amount of liquidated damages. Liquidated damages represent the compensation for the delay in receiving the wages employees were due and always equal the amount of back wages.

For example, an employer pays one of its employees $5.25 per hour, and the employee works a 40-hour week. This violates the minimum wage requirement of the FLSA, and the employer will be liable for back wages and liquidated damages. At the illegal rate, the employee’s take-home pay for the week was $210. However, the employee should have been paid $7.25 per hour, and then his take-home pay would have been $290. Thus, his back wages would be $290 minus $210, or $80. The employer must also pay an additional equal amount as liquidated damages, which, here, is $80. Therefore, the employee’s total recovery is $160 ($80 in back wages plus $80 in liquidated damages).

An employer may also be liable for a civil fine. Any person who repeatedly or willfully violates the FLSA by paying less than minimum wage or failing to pay overtime is subject to a maximum fine of $1,000. The employer’s violation must be repeated and willful. A violation is repeated if the employer has previously been in violation of the FLSA. Whether or not a violation is willful depends on the facts of the case, but a showing that the employer has previously violated the FLSA indicates that the violation was in fact willful.

The FLSA also requires an employer to pay the employee’s attorneys’ fees.