While the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations’ Division of Labor Standards (DLS) does not have the authority to legally compel employers to pay employees the wages they are owed, DLS does investigate all wage complaints and has over a 90% success rate of recovering owed wages. DLS encourages workers who feel they have not been properly compensated to file a wage complaint. It is the employees’ right, however, to take legal action and seek relief through the courts. If the amount due in back wages is less than $3,000, workers may file their claim in Small Claims Court, where costs are less and it is easier to proceed without hiring private legal counsel. Individuals attempting to recover amounts above $3,000 should pursue a private right of action in circuit court.
Even if an employee expected to be paid at a rate higher than the minimum wage rate, DLS can only determine back wages due to the employee based on the difference between the wages actually received and the statutorily required minimum wage rate. (If the Prevailing Wage Law applies, then DLS can only calculate the wages due based on the difference between the wages actually received and the applicable prevailing wage rate.) For example, suppose an employee expected to receive $500 for 40 hours of work (12.50 per hour), but was paid only $250 for that 40 hours of work ($6.25 per hour). When DLS determines the back wages due to the employee, it may only calculate the back wages due based on the difference between the minimum wage rate (currently $7.35 per hour) and the wage rate actually paid ($ 6.25 per hour). The employee may still have a basis (such as an employment contract requiring payment at the higher wage rate) to pursue a private legal remedy on his/her own with regard to the remaining wages.