When Can I Take Legal Action for Labor Law Violations?
Your rights in the workplace are protected by several federal laws and likely also by state or even municipal laws. Two main federal laws protect labor rights:
- The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). This law, and subsequent amendments to it, give workers the right to organize and engage in collective bargaining. It bans employers from preventing the formation of labor organizations and discriminating against workers who organize.
- The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). This law establishes a minimum wage and protects the right to overtime pay, fair break time at work, and recordkeeping of hours and pay. It also addresses issues related to child labor and regulates how and when minors can work.
If your employer breaks one of these laws, violating your rights, there are steps and processes in place to help you remedy the situation. Options include working with your employer with a lawyer to advocate for you, filing a complaint with the government, working with your union to resolve the situation, and in some cases, filing a lawsuit.
Can I File a Labor Law Lawsuit Against My Employer?
Whether or not you can file a lawsuit against your employer depends on the situation, the law violated, and the jurisdiction. For violations of the NLRA, you must file a complaint with the regional office of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The NLRB will review and investigate and decide to take action or not. Be aware that not all employers and workers are covered under the NLRA.
If your employer has violated the FLSA, you may file a lawsuit. However, individual lawsuits against employers for these violations are not typical. The damages you can recover are limited, typically to back wages, so a lawyer is not likely to take your case.
More typical with an FLSA violation is a collective action. A group of employees may band together to sue their employer, pooling their resources. If your employer is violating your rights, chances are they are doing the same to other workers. A collective action is similar to a class action lawsuit, except that it requires you to opt in to participate.
When Should I Consider an FLSA Labor Law Lawsuit?
Because you need a group of workers to file a lawsuit over an FLSA violation, you may be uncertain of how and when to proceed. A labor law lawyer can evaluate your situation and determine if you have a strong case for a lawsuit. Some examples of violations that may warrant a lawsuit include:
- Your employer misclassified your employment status to avoid paying overtime or minimum wage.
- Your employer miscalculates and shorts you on overtime pay.
- You are consistently asked to come in early or stay late without extra pay.
- You have not received adequate, paid break time.
- Your employer is keeping your tips.
- You are being paid less than minimum wage in an industry that requires it.
- Your employer has not kept accurate records of your pay or hours worked.
How Do I File a Lawsuit Against My Employer?
If you think you have a case to file a lawsuit over FLSA violations, talk to a lawyer specializing in collective labor law actions. They can get you started and provide valuable assistance in making a successful case in several ways:
- Talking to other employees to find out if they have experienced similar violations
- Negotiating with your employer to resolve the situation without filing a lawsuit
- Investigating your employer’s practices to find evidence of violations
- Starting and proceeding through the lawsuit
To file a lawsuit, your lawyer will file a complaint to notify your employer of the allegations and legal action. Both sides will then investigate the allegations, hold depositions, and gather information and evidence.
Your employer will likely be prepared to negotiate with your legal team at this point. They may be willing to provide your back pay or other remedies for the violations. If not, your legal team can take them to court and argue your case before a jury. The jury will decide if your employer violated the law, and if so, what they owe you.
What is the Process of Filing an NLRB Complaint?
In the case of an NLRA violation, you cannot sue your employer but must go through the NLRB filing process. You can also file charges against your union if you believe it violated your rights. You do not need a lawyer for this process, but it is a good idea to have representation, especially if your charge is withdrawn.
When you file a complaint with the NLRB over a labor violation, it will go through these steps:
You must fill out the appropriate forms and submit them to the regional director of your closest NLRB office to outline the charges you are making against your employer.
The NLRB investigates your allegations to determine if your claim necessitates formal action. If it does not, the charge will be withdrawn.
If the investigation turns up credible evidence, the NLRB regional director will file a complaint against your employer. They may still decide to withdraw it at this point.
An administrative law judge will hear your case and either dismiss it or order your employer to cease and desist an unfair labor practice. The NLRB may also issue an injunction before the hearing to stop unfair labor practices if they are obvious or egregious.
- Remedial order.
The NLRB board may require your employer to remedy the situation, for instance, by providing back pay.
Either side may take the case further, requesting the decision be overturned in a Court of Appeals or ultimately by the Supreme Court.
Labor law lawsuits are not always possible, but you can always take some type of action to hold an employer accountable. A labor lawyer is your best ally in resolving the situation and ensuring you get appropriate remedies.