Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Unpaid Wages, Wage Claims, and Overtime in South Carolina

Employers usually pay their employees the wages owed to the employees for the hours worked. However, it is not entirely uncommon for employers to fail or refuse to properly pay their employees. Employees in South Carolina do have the right to be paid what they are owed and to be paid on time under various laws including the South Carolina Payment of Wages Act, Fair Labor Standards Act, and common law.

Sometimes employers do not properly pay their employees because they are simply bad actors. They know they owe their employees, they have the funds with which to pay, yet they refuse to pay. Sometimes the employer and employee agree that wages are owed, but the employer just refuses to pay, and the employee often quits. Other times the employer intentionally miscalculates and manipulates the employee's wage math and denies that any monies are owed.

It is much less common for employers not to pay their employees due to strict negligence, such as simply forgetting to run payroll or not transferring monies from one account to another to ensure available funds for direct deposit payments on pay day. Under those scenarios, it is unlikely that employees will seek legal recourse or legal advice and more likely that they would simply communicate with their employer to obtain payment.

Often employers do not pay their employees because they do not have the funds with which to pay their employees. Running a business is tough. An employer or owner could have personal financial difficulties and raid the business's operating bank account to pay for personal financial obligations. Many businesses do not have loans or lines of credit to operate their businesses in the case that there is a deficiency when it comes time to make payroll. If the business's customers or clients have not paid their bills, the employer may not be financially solvent to pay the employees.

Under any scenario, the employee has the right to be paid the amount owed and to be paid on time in South Carolina. Believe it or not: South Carolina has a law that protects employees. But what can employees do to protect themselves? After having consulted with countless individuals with wage claims in my mere five years as an attorney, I have found that there are some simple precautions that any employee can take to help their cause and assist in any future legal recourse.

1. Keep Track of Your Hours: Employees often put in their time and leave their documentation of their time worked and the dates on which they worked with the employer. They may fill out a timesheet, punch a clock, or sign into a computer to track their time. Under that scenario, if an employee alleges that their time has been altered or that they have not been paid in full, they have no documentation of their hours or dates worked, and they must rely solely upon the employer's records.

2. Document Communications: Do not simply have an offhand conversation with an employer or the employer's secretary regarding your wages. Send your employer an e-mail or a test message. Write your employer a letter and maybe even send it certified mail. Maybe record your conversation (but consult with a criminal attorney about the laws regarding recording conversations first, as every state has different laws and it can be a felony under certain scenarios). Otherwise, the employer may just deny your allegations.

3. Save a Copy: Keep a copy of any contract you may have with your employer. Few have contracts, but some do have simple written contracts. It is not uncommon that folks consult with me about monies owed to them for work completed believing that they were employees; however, they may be classified as independent contractors, and instead of a wage claim, they may have a breach of contract claim. However, they often work without any written instruction or details regarding the terms and conditions of the work or payment for the same.

4. Did I Mention to Make a Written Record?: Otherwise, it will be your word against your employer's word, potentially. Would your employer lie about you being an employee? Would your employer lie about the dates and hours you worked? About altering your timekeeping? Not the same employer that failed to get you medical attention when you were hurt on the job, fired you for getting hurt, and refused to pay you your last paycheck. Would your employer do that? Yes. These people do exist.

5. Use Common Sense: Why are you still working if your employer has not paid you for weeks or months? Has your employer been behind on paying you for weeks and months, making partial payments? Have you waited 6 months before consulting with an attorney? There are statutes of limitations on your wage claims, so you should immediately consult with an attorney or you may forever lose your rights.

I hope some of this information and my thoughts may be helpful. If you would like to discuss your wage claim, pay situation, or employment matter, please do not hesitate to contact us to arrange a free consultation. We are employment attorneys in Hilton Head SC and our employment lawyers Hilton Head also serve clients throughout the Lowcountry, including, Bluffton, Charleston and many other communities throughout the South Carolina Lowcountry.