If you are a covered employee under federal and state wage and hour laws and you believe your employer violated those laws, you can recover unpaid wages or unpaid overtime from your employer. But, you only have a limited amount of time to file your claim. This time limit is called the statute of limitations.
Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), you or the U.S. Secretary of Labor, acting on your behalf, must commence (begin) a lawsuit within two years from the date that your employer:
- Failed to pay you minimum wages or overtime or violated other provisions of the FLSA
- Retaliated or discriminated against you for asserting your rights under the FLSA
The retaliation or discrimination can be in the form of unauthorized withholding of wages, demotion or transfer to a lower paying job or termination.
The two-year limitations period applies to:
- Private lawsuits
- Complaints filed by the Secretary of Labor on behalf of specific employees named in the complaint
A legal action also starts when an employee who is not listed in the original complaint later adds his or her name to the complaint in either a private action or an action commenced by the Secretary.
The FLSA permits the extension of the statute of limitations period to three years if an employer's violation is willful.
An FLSA violation is considered to be willful if the employer:
- Knew that its conduct was prohibited by the FLSA
- Showed reckless disregard as to whether its conduct was prohibited by the FLSA
- Disregarded the possibility that it was violating the FLSA
- Had prior FLSA violations and evidence of the employer's recklessness is shown
A finding of willfulness not only extends the limitations period for filing an FLSA claim, it also permits the recovery of three years of back wages from the time of filing the lawsuit and may entitle the employee to liquidated damages, which is an additional award of damages provided by the terms of the FLSA.
Wage claims under the FLSA can be complicated, so an employment law attorney can best help you in determining the remedies available to you under the FLSA.