Everyone is entitled to be paid for the work that they have done. If you are an employee your employer cannot withhold your pay. If your employer has failed to pay you there are a couple of ways you can go about getting your money. You can choose either one but you should know which makes sense for you.
Your first option is to file a claim with the Department of Labor. You can choose this path if the dollar amount you are seeking is less than the amount set for small claims court, excluding penalties. In Idaho that amount is currently $5000.00. You have two years to make a claim for wages. The department will collect all your wage claim information and determine if you are entitled to unpaid wages and penalties. Penalties are assessed if employers do not follow statutory guidelines as to how and when wages shall be paid. Penalties will only be awarded if the department finds that the wages were withheld willfully, arbitrarily and without just cause. Penalties of this type, in Idaho, may not exceed $500 per pay period and they go to the Department of Labor, not you.
The determination of the Department of Labor will become final unless an appeal is filed within fourteen days of the determination. What this means for you is that if the Department of Labor determines that the employer wrongfully withheld your wages you will get a judgment in the amount of those wages. The employer can appeal that decision but must do so within 14 days of the determination. If, however, the Department determines you aren’t owed wages you must file an appeal within 14 days in order to preserve your right to a review of the department’s decision. Any appeal with the Department of Labor must be in writing and signed. All appeals go before a specially appointed appeals examiner. The appeals examiner will hear the case and make a determination. If the employer or you are not happy with this decision you may request a rehearing or seek a judicial review. If there is no such request the amount owing becomes immediately due and owing. As you can see, this is a typical bureaucratic process filed with lots of paperwork and duplicity.
If you wish to avoid the bureaucracy and actually get more money, your best bet is to go with a private attorney because there are laws that protect employees. The bureaucracy will get you money but it won’t take care of the damage the delay in pay has caused you. Your pay check is your livelihood and when you aren’t paid you suffer more damage than just not being paid. You get behind on bills, you might not have enough money for food and you are in a real pinch. This is where a private attorney can really help you.
If you win your wage claim, you are entitled to collect attorneys’ fees in addition to penalties and damages. The main benefit of using a private attorney is that if you win your wage claim you can receive something known as treble damages. Treble damages are three times the amount of the wage claim. So say, for example, you have a wage claim for $1000 in unpaid wages, when you hire a private attorney and win your case you will receive a judgment for the $1000 as well as a judgment for $3000 in treble damages.
The reason you are allowed to collect so much more when you use a private attorney is because the Courts want to send a message to all employers that they cannot go around not paying employees. This option is not open to you when you go through an administrative hearing with the Department of Labor because the government is overburdened and backlogged, so the legislature gives you the option of using a private attorney and sending an important message to unpaying employers. Using a private attorney to collect unpaid wages makes sense.