As a cook, you may find that your hours are variable. You may be asked to work more hours some weeks and less on others. It is an unfortunate fact that some employers may take advantage of their employees by not paying them the correct, agreed rate of pay.
There are state and federal laws that protect employees from what is called wage theft. This happens when employees are not paid enough. Examples of wage theft range from paying less than the minimum wage to not paying overtime.
If you work more than 40 hours in any 7 day week, any hours over that limit should be paid at overtime rates, which are 150% of the normal hourly wage you are paid.
If you believe you are not being paid correctly and you are experiencing wage theft, there are steps you can take to get your employer to pay you properly.
You may need an employment lawyer to help you if you find that your employer is refusing to pay the correct amount you are owed.
Eligibility for Overtime
Both state and federal laws cover what an employer should pay an employee on hourly wages. The federal laws are contained in the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).
These make it mandatory for most employees on hourly wages to be paid a minimum wage and be paid overtime if they work for more than 40 hours in a working week of 7 days.
The overtime rate is set across the U.S. at time and a half. As a cook, if you work for 48 hours, you should be paid 8 hours at a rate 50% greater than your normal hourly rate.
Most states also have similar labor laws. Many states have minimum wage laws that are equal to or greater than the federal minimum of $7.25.
If the state minimum is $9, for instance, then the minimum overtime rate is based on that, i.e. $13.50 an hour.
In some states, there are also overtime rules based on an 8 hour day as well as a 40 hour week.
Gathering Evidence of Eligibility
If you believe you haven’t been paid properly and think that either you haven’t been paid for the overtime you did or you weren’t paid at time and a half for the hours over 40, you should take steps to get your pay corrected.
- Check what was written into your employment agreement. It is unlikely that you are on a salary, but if this is the case, it may mean that you are not entitled to overtime rates.
- Check what your state labor laws say about overtime. All employees should be paid at time and a half for over 40 hours based on the FLSA, but your state laws may be different.
- From the start of each week, it is a good idea to make a personal note of the hours you work. If you have time sheets to fill in, make a copy of them.
- Keep your pay stubs and look at them carefully to see whether there is any discrepancy between what you are paid and the number of hours you work.
What to Do Next
If you are unhappy about what you are being paid, especially if you think your employer is in violation of the FLSA or state labor laws on overtime, you should quietly approach your HR department or whoever is the person in charge of your pay.
Take a careful note of what they say and show them what evidence you have that proves that you haven’t been pad properly. You may be able to sort it out if there has been a simple administrative error.
If you have no success, you should file a complaint with the nearest Department of Labor Wages and Hours Division.
They should investigate your complaint and if there has been a violation of the FLSA or state overtime laws, may be able to make your employer pay the balance of what you are owed. You will need to show evidence that you haven’t been paid correctly when you file your complaint.
If your employer has violated wage or overtime laws, it may be told to pay a penalty of $1,000 for each violation.
Get an Expert on Your Side
If all fails, you may decide to take legal action against your employer. An employment lawyer can help you file a lawsuit against your employer to recover unpaid overtime or other benefits you haven’t been paid.