If the DOL is There, Why Do You Need a Wage Claim Lawyer?

You’ve always loved your job. That has never changed, even after a new owner came in after Thanksgiving and made some changes you didn’t like. Some people quit, but not you. You pressed on and even worked 65-hour workweeks during the last two weeks of December to make up for the personnel shortage.

Now you’re looking at your paycheck, which states that you worked 40 hours per week, not 65. When you ask about it, you’re told that “money is tight” right now due to the pandemic and everyone is expected to do a “little extra” until things improve. When you insist on being paid for the hours you actually worked, the hours on your January schedule suddenly go down by half.

It’s a wage situation that’s illegal on multiple levels. In Michigan, workers who have claims related to minimum wage, overtime, or unpaid wages can file a complaint with the Wage and Hour Division of the Michigan Department of Labor & Economic Growth or the U.S. Department of Labor (both agencies referred to here as the “DOL”). It’s a process that can be accomplished without a wage claim attorney, so why hire one?

There’s no question that the DOL does important work. But when you retain an employment law attorney you have advantages that unrepresented claimants may not. 

Lawyers DO Cost Money But…

It’s true that the DOL doesn’t charge legal fees like attorneys do. However, when you sue your employer directly, the law allows you to seek attorneys fees as well as unpaid wages, liquidated damages, and any other penalties that the court deems appropriate for your case. This makes it easier for you to find a lawyer, who can be compensated for their time regardless of the amount of money at issue.

While the DOL may be able to negotiate a settlement for you, an experienced employment lawyer will fight to make sure that your recovery is as high as possible.  This is because wage and hour laws are designed to protect the public good while lawyers are dedicated to protecting their individual clients’ rights. Many employers will not pay as much money in a voluntary settlement as they would if there were a possibility of the case going to court. In addition, there are some damages that are only available – like double or triple the amount of wages at issue – if a lawsuit is filed.

DOL Scope May Be Limited 

Both the Michigan Department of Labor and the U.S. Wage and Hour Division (which investigates Fair Labor Standards Act complaints) can be limited in the types of claims they may pursue. If any aspect of your case falls out of the pure wage claims that these departments are authorized to cover, they likely won’t be able to compensate you accordingly. An employment law attorney can advise you on which approach is most likely to result in the compensation you deserve.

Some Outcomes Are Unexpected

If your employer has filed for bankruptcy and you want to file a wage complaint or lawsuit, you must contact the bankruptcy court. Bankruptcies are tricky to deal with when you are a claimant, so in this situation, you will definitely want to talk to a lawyer. 

What’s the Bottom Line?

The various Departments of Labor provide valuable resources and support for workers facing wage issues. In many cases, they do an excellent job of helping these employees pursue and protect their rights. Even so, it can be worth your time to speak to a Michigan employment law attorney, especially if your claim is more complex or you’re concerned about retaliation. To learn more about what an experienced law firm like Carla D. Aikens, PLC can do for you, call to schedule a free consultation.

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