Undeniably, anyone who works a job expects to get paid for it. Unfortunately, many Florida employers fall short and commit wage violations when it comes to employment standards.
State and federal laws exist to regulate employers and help ensure workers are paid in full within a reasonable amount of time. Whenever your wages go unpaid or or you are underpaid, you have the legal right to file a claim and hold your employer accountable for their illegal actions.
Fortunately, there are many types of legal relief for unpaid wages. Lawsuits can help victims recover their unpaid wages, and filing a claim can be a simple process.
Timing is one of the most critical aspects of a successful wage violation claim. Like other civil actions in Florida, you must proceed with a wage violation claim within a reasonable timeframe, also known as a statute of limitations. Every case is different, and the statute of limitations can change depending on the circumstances.
You’ll need to act fast and file the appropriate documents if you’ve been subject to wage theft or any other unpaid wage violation. Failure to file a lawsuit within the statute of limitations for lost wages can invalidate your case and prevent you from recovering your losses.
No one should suffer because of illegal employment practices. Consulting with a Florida employment law attorney can help determine the best course of action if you’re owed wages.
About the Florida Statute of Limitations for Unpaid Wages
Unpaid wages can occur in many ways and affect almost any job within the workforce. The timeline for filing a complaint varies depending on the unique circumstances of the offense and other factors like job classification, hourly rates, tips, overtime, and minimum wage requirements.
Some of the most common types of wage-related violations in Florida include the following:
Minimum Wage Violations
Federal law ensures that employees across the country earn a standard minimum wage, although states have complete discretion to increase these rates as they see fit. As of 2022, the federal minimum wage is set at $7.25 per hour, though Florida lawmakers have passed higher rates:
- $11.00 per hour for standard employees
- $7.98 per hour for tipped workers
The Florida Minimum Wage Act includes provisions on how victims can seek to recover their unpaid wages.
Employers may often pay only partial wages, modify agreed-upon rates, or withhold paychecks altogether.
Situations when an employer explicitly refuses to pay a worker can be challenging to prove because Florida’s lax employment provisions make it difficult to enforce labor contracts.
Additionally, many cases of non-payment happen in unofficial working arrangements, such as gig work or temporary roles, rather than in traditional payroll settings.
To simplify matters, Florida is one of the few states that doesn’t dictate worker payment schedules. In other words, there’s no statute directing how frequently or quickly employers should pay their workers. Instead, the law states only that employers should make payments within a “reasonable amount of time.”
Because of this, Florida courts have complete discretion in interpreting the law regarding the length of payment delays.
Breaks at Work
Although no federal or state laws require paid rest periods in Florida, employers must pay you if you are given a break that lasts between five and 20 minutes. In other words, your wages cannot be reduced just because you took a short break.
Some individuals may work for months without noticing a slash in their wages due to breaks. Over time, these amounts can add up and result in severe financial losses.
Because Florida lacks dedicated overtime laws, the state follows federal provisions set by the Department of Labor.
Many employees who work more than 40 hours in one week are entitled to overtime pay. Overtime pay is set at time-and-a-half for every additional hour worked. Employers may calculate overtime hours incorrectly, leading to significant paycheck discrepancies.
You may not notice that overtime has been withheld in many situations until weeks or months later. It’s important to review your paychecks each time to ensure your wages are paid correctly.
How Far Back Can an Employee Claim Unpaid Wages?
The statute of limitations for filing a claim varies from case to case, and the amount of time you have can fluctuate depending on the type of wage violation and the court in which you’ll be pursuing an unpaid wage claim.
In any case, acting as soon as possible is recommended. Unpaid wage claims are complex legal matters. Because there are many moving parts to these cases, moving fast can help you recover your earnings sooner rather than later.
State Minimum Wage Violations
The statute of limitations for any wage violations related to Florida’s Minimum Wage Act is four years. However, if your employer willfully violated the Minimum Wage Act, the statute of limitations increases to five years.
Before proceeding with a civil action, the courts require you to provide your employer a 15-day written notice for them to resolve the matter and pay you in full.
Minimum wage lawsuits in Florida can help recover your lost wages and seek liquidated damages in the same amount and attorneys’ fees. Additionally, when there’s evidence that the wage theft was intentional, the courts may issue a $1,000-per-violation penalty to your employer.
Federal Minimum Wage Violations
Unfortunately, Florida lacks a state agency that oversees wage and hour laws. In some cases, individuals may seek to file minimum wage violations at the federal level instead.
The Department of Labor handles federal complaints, and the statute of limitations to file a claim is two years. If there was a willful violation on behalf of an employer, such as retaliation, then the statute of limitations can extend to three years.
Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) claims are complex but can often be the best option for many victims of workplace abuse and wage theft.
Civil Theft Claims
In more complex situations, victims of wage violations in Florida can also proceed with a civil theft lawsuit.
The statute of limitations for a civil theft lawsuit is five years. Unlike a small claims case, civil theft violations must meet specific elements to move forward, some of which include the following:
- Malicious retention of wages
- Deprivation of someone’s right to funds
- Lack of entitlement to use or hold the salaries in question
- Felonious intent
Per the rules of civil procedure, you’ll have to give written notice and provide your employer with 30 days to correct their mistake.
Civil theft claims may legally recover three times the amount of damages, plus attorneys’ fees and other administrative expenses. Depending on your situation, this may be the ideal path forward. However, obtaining clear and convincing evidence is vital for a flourishing civil theft claim.
You’ll need to consult with an attorney who can determine whether there’s enough burden of proof to proceed.
Small Claims Court for Unpaid Wages
For other unpaid wage claims, if your employer owes you $8,000 or less, you may proceed with civil action in small claims court. Under most workplace arrangements, the statute of limitations for filing a claim in small claims court is four years.
How Long Does a Claim Take?
As with any civil action, the timeline for an unpaid wage case can vary greatly.
If there’s substantial evidence for your case to move forward in court, you can expect a generally shorter process than one that may require additional investigation. The best way to determine how long your claim may take is to consult an employment law attorney.
In some cases, the threat of a lawsuit can encourage an employer to take action and seek a settlement. Lawsuits are costly, time-consuming, and emotionally taxing. Your employer may decide to admit wrongdoing and attempt to negotiate the matter alongside your attorney to streamline the process and take responsibility.
The process can take time to resolve if you proceed with a standard lawsuit in Florida. Litigation can often become tied up with opposing parties, and you’ll need patience as the process progresses.
Depending on your jurisdiction, court calendars may also cause additional delays, so it’s essential to plan accordingly and take action as soon as possible.
In other situations, judges may dismiss the claim, and you’ll have to seek relief through alternative measures. Every case is unique and largely depends on the circumstances.
Federal investigations by the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) may recover your wage in as little as six weeks. However, these funds are usually made available as part of more significant investigations rather than individual claims.
The DOL will hold wages they’ve recovered for a maximum of three years before turning them over to the Department of Treasury.
If your employer were subject to a federal wage investigation, you’d want to consult the government’s database to check for available funds and how you can receive them.
Hiring an Attorney for Your Unpaid Wages Claim
As with any civil claim in Florida, hiring an attorney can significantly increase your chances of recovering unpaid wages. On top of recovering your unpaid wages, a dedicated attorney can seek additional relief, such as extra financial compensation and sanctions against your employer.
Any employment law matter can be challenging, especially when claims against employers involve complex financial issues. A labor law attorney is an excellent resource to help you through the process and will fight to hold your employer accountable for their harmful actions.
When you file a lawsuit, a lawyer can help ensure that a case is not thrown out due to technicalities or under questionable legal circumstances. Additionally, they’ll abide by the statute of limitation for suing for back wages.
Should the opposing party be willing to negotiate, an attorney can help obtain a reasonable settlement. Although some people find success through self-representation in court, the results can be subpar.
During an unpaid wage claim, your attorney will likely follow several steps, such as:
- Investigate your claim
- Review the evidence available
- Obtain additional evidence
- Interview other employees and related parties
- Serve your employer
- File paperwork with the courts
- Prepare pleadings and motions
- Engage in negotiation with the opposing party
- Proceed to trial
- Recover your losses
The Wenzel Fenton Cabassa P.A. team is relentlessly fighting for labor rights and seeking justice against illegal workplace abuses. Our employment law attorneys are dedicated to representing clients with various labor issues, including unpaid wages, retaliation, and even discrimination.
You work hard at your job and expect your employer to uphold their end of the bargain. When your wages are reduced or withheld, we understand the consequences.
Our offices serve all Florida’s major metropolitan areas, including Tampa, Miami, Orlando, St. Petersburg, Sarasota, and Jacksonville. Contact us today for a free consultation.