Wage & Hour
Ken C. GauveyPersonal Injury Attorney
Wage and hour laws are complex and intricate laws with both state and federal components. However, the laws themselves are geared towards ensuring the employee’s rights and wages. Employers are continually being accused of failing to pay employee’s proper wages, misclassifying employees, changing time sheets, or refusing to acknowledge actual hours worked. Employers have an uphill battle and there is a lot at stake. The penalties for violating wage and hour laws can be trebled at triple the amount, in addition, an employer can be responsible for attorneys fees if they lose a wage and hour dispute.
Misclassification in Maryland
Employees often file cases on the basis that they have been misclassified. This means that the employee will state that they are supposed to be a full-time employee when they are being paid as a part-time employee or that they are an independent contractor. When an employee claims that they are an independent contractor and not an employee they are claiming that the employer is not paying them the benefits and wages that they are owed. Employees will often claim this happens in one of two ways. Either the employee is hired and told they are an independent contractor, which is common in areas such as IT departments and exotic dancers and entertainers. Alternatively, an employee will state that they were forced to form their own company so that they can be “contracted” by the employer and will work as an independent contractor. In general, the test is whether the employer has the ability to control the working conditions of the employee (there are a number of tests to determine whether true independent contractor status exists, so this is an oversimplification). If the employer schedules the employee and requires they work at specific times, among other things, then it is most often an employee-employer relationship rather than an independent contractor one. In this case, the employee is entitled to proper wages and overtime wages.
Employees will often complain to their employers and even file suit based on time sheets. It is very common for employees to state that their employer has altered their time sheets and cards. It is true that the employer bears the burden to maintain proper work records. Employees will state that their employers improperly recorded time worked by the employee and reduced time that they actually worked. However, often times this result from the employee not understanding the hours they work, and how breaks are calculated. More often than not the employer does not change a time sheet in an attempt to be malicious, however despite explaining policies and practices to employees, an employee will not often understand an adjustment in wages and hours.
A number of employees, especially in the exotic dancer industry, state that they have been intimidated in an attempt by the employer to not pay the employee their wages. In addition to running business employers often have to explain tax implications of working, which employees often confuse for intimidation strategies.
However, no matter how gently, logically, and calmly employers explain these issues to their employee’s wage and hour cases are often filed in federal courts based on intimidation. Wage and hour cases are typically brought in the federal courts where federal court judges are appointed by the President of the United States and ratified by the U.S. Senate. The appointments are lifetime appointments. Those judges are not concerned with local “connections.” Moreover, as far as tax issues are concerned, the IRS is typically more concerned with employers who engage in overarching tax fraud than individuals.
Employers can also make claims that they have hidden their assets. Wage and hour laws provide for individual liability. So, in any wage and hour claim, the company can be sued but so can owners and managers who control wage and hour laws. Therefore, it is not just company assets that are at risk in such suits, but also personal assets of those in control. Before buying into these threats, it is best to get informed through consulting, in confidence, with an experienced attorney.
There are a variety of categories of damages available in wage and hour litigation. As a threshold matter, employees are entitled to be paid the wages they are owed, both straight time and overtime wages. However, Congress and the State of Maryland have also allowed other relief for employees. Under Federal law, employees are entitled to twice their unpaid wages as a penalty to employers. Under Maryland State law, in certain circumstances, employees are entitled to triple damages as a penalty. Most claims against an employer have both federal issues and state issues, which means that the litigation strategies needed to defend an employer are more complex. This also means that the stakes are higher for an employer who is facing a lawsuit because they may have to pay damages under both state and federal law. Moreover, both federal and state law require employers to pay the employees’ attorneys’ fees if the employees prevail. Therefore, wage and hour cases are taken on a contingency basis, at no cost to the employee in most cases.
One of the safeguards put in wage and hour laws is a prohibition against employers retaliating against employees for pursuing their own wages. Under the law, an employer who retaliates, either during employment or after is subject to additional penalties and additional causes of action. This poses a problem for many employers who may have a legitimate reason for discharging an employee, which is independent of any action related to a lawsuit.
Get the Legal Counsel You Need From Experienced Baltimore Employment Lawyer Ken C. Gauvey
Wage and hour laws are complex. We recognize that a decision to pursue such claims is often difficult and sometimes scary. If you have questions regarding your rights in this area, we offer free, confidential consultations to discuss your concerns and legal options.