The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires that employers provide at least time and a half for any hours worked over 40 in a week. States can provide more benefits to workers, but the federal law is the absolute “floor” that states cannot go below.
If you have been unfairly denied overtime pay, you certainly have a right to bring a lawsuit in court. However, you must be aware of the FLSA’s statute of limitations. This sets the time in which individuals must act (file a lawsuit) before their claims become stale and no longer valid. In other words, it sets the maximum period in which you can lookback to recover unpaid wages. If your claim is filed beyond the limitations period, then a judge will toss your case out of court, meaning you will not be able to get the compensation you earned.
Statute of Limitations: Generally Two Years
Workers typically have two years from the date of the overtime violation to sue for compensation. Imagine that Melissa started working at her company and was immediately cheated of overtime pay on June 1, 2015. She has until at least June 1, 2017 to bring a lawsuit to receive all of the overtime that she is entitled to.
If Melissa waits until June 1, 2020 to bring a lawsuit, then she can only get overtime pay back to June 1, 2018 (unless she proves a willful violation as described below), even though her employer has denied her overtime all the way back to 2015. For this reason, it is absolutely essential that workers meet with an attorney as soon as they suspect that they are not receiving the compensation they deserve.
Willful Conduct: Three Year Statute of Limitations
It is possible that an employer could make an innocent mistake when denying an employee overtime pay. If the employer can prove that its violation of the FLSA was not willful, the two-year statute of limitations applies.
Many denials of overtime, however, are willful. A violation of the FLSA is willful if the employer either knew or showed reckless disregard of whether its conduct was prohibited by the statute.
In situations where the denial of overtime has been willful, a three-year statute of limitations applies. If Melissa were to file a lawsuit on June 1, 2020, she can reach all the way back to June 1, 2017 to recover overtime pay she earned. The longer statute of limitations is a way to punish an employer that willfully violates the law by failing to pay employees the minimum required under the FLSA.
Protecting Your Rights
Employees denied overtime pay can file a lawsuit in court to receive what they were owed in the form of back overtime wages they earned but were not paid. It is important to move quickly so that you can reach back as far as possible to get all your wages.
At Coffman Legal, LLC, our firm has helped many clients in overtime and other wage and hour cases on an individual or class basis. We understand how to make a compelling legal argument to protect our clients’ rights. For help with your case, please contact our Columbus wage & overtime attorneys directly to schedule a free consultation.