What Are Double Damages In Regard To Unpaid Back Wages?

double damages unpaid back wages

When dealing with your employer, there are certain things to be mindful of in regard to your rights. One of these things to be mindful of is your time, and frankly, all too many employers are all too happy to take your time without offering you the compensation that you deserve. One of these ways that these kinds of employers like to exploit their employees is through unpaid overtime, and one of the ways they do this is by tricking their employees into thinking that they do not have a valid claim to overtime. Not only do they have a valid claim to that, but they may also have a valid claim to double damages in back pay. But how does an employee become entitled to that? 

Understanding What Double Damages Are With Respect To Unpaid Back Wages 

Contrary to what a lot of people believe, just because you are a salaried worker, it does not mean that you are not entitled to be paid extra if you work extra hard for an extra amount of time. This is often due to assumptions on the part of the salaried worker, but it is sadly all too common that the misinformation comes as a result of representatives for the company being actively misleading, such as a human resources employee telling you that you are not in fact entitled for additional compensation for overtime work. Just because you do not receive an hourly pay rate does not mean that you can work for free; that is simply indentured servitude. It gets to the extent that an employer may actually push their salaried workers to waive their rights to overtime pay, despite the fact that employees cannot waive this right at all. It gets even worse when we look at hourly employees who are cheated out of their overtime pay. 

Not only do they lose out on this pay for the labor they perform, but they also lack the extra earnings made from being a salaried employee, so it is even more unconscionable on the part of the employer to do such a thing, not that it is not unconscionable to do it to salaried workers either. Simply put, employees have so many more rights than they realize, and an employment lawyer can do so much to help them get what they are entitled to. Not only are employees entitled to overtime, but they are also entitled to receive additional compensation in the event that it is shown that their employer was cheating them out of their earnings. This is done in order to ensure that there exists a risk for any employer who is trying to pull a fast one on any of their employees, with the knowledge that if they do, they may lose more than if they just did things by the book in the first place. Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, or FLSA, an employer who is found to have engaged in such behavior can be brought to a federal district court as part of a private action on your part. In addition to that, one may seek double damages. 

Dealing With Double Damages

There are two ways that an employer can potentially get out of paying out double damages. The first way is to show that they were not engaging in bad faith when they deprived you of the pay that you were owed. The second way is to show that they had a legitimate belief that their actions were in compliance with the FLSA. This has, sadly, tanked all too many cases seeking to receive double damages, as it can be hard at times to show that they were engaging in bad faith and didn't realize they were not in compliance with the FLSA. The employer does not even have to show that their belief that they were adhering to the FLSA was a valid belief, merely that they were reasonable to believe that they were. The double damage compensation is intended for employers who are verifiably engaging in behavior that is blatantly in violation of the FLSA, so in order to avoid punishing an employer who was incompetent instead of malicious, some malicious employers will fall through the cracks. And while an employer may show reasonable compliance through consulting a wage and hour counsel, they have to also show that they followed through on this advice as well. This can be especially unfortunate, as not getting proper compensation for your labor certainly sets you back. However, in order to properly avoid paying double damages, an employer must correct their error before you file a lawsuit, or an investigation is opened to discover possible wrongdoing on the employer's part. So if an employer suspects that they will not do well in such a suit, they may rush to correct their error ASAP. 

One of the key things that an experienced employment attorney do for their clients is helping employees involved in overtime and wage disputes understand what they are entitled to, as well as how to get these entitlements. Depending on the employer, this is going to be easier or more difficult. Nevertheless, an employment lawyer will make sure that the employer pays up for any unpaid back wages that you are entitled to, as well as double damages. This not only provides you the compensation you deserve for their exploitative behavior, but it also lets them know that if they ever try that with you, or even with another employee, they may face the same consequences, creating a better work environment for everyone. 

Top Takeaway

An important lesson to take away is that no matter how much you trust your employer, your employer has their own interests which often go against your own. When you are cheated out of overtime, you should absolutely approach this as a bad faith action, because the alternative is letting them walk all over you and then be able to get away with it. It does not matter if you are working for Walmart or if you are working for a small mom-and-pop shop, an employee cannot simply assume that they simply made a mistake.

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