Claims for Unpaid Wages and Overtime

Both the federal and Oregon governments make it illegal for an employer to fail to pay wages or overtime to its employees. If an employer does not pay those wages, a court will require it to pay the unpaid wages and severe additional penalties. The employer also be required by the Court to pay all of the employee’s attorneys’ reasonable fees.

Compared to other kinds of claims, these wage laws are very favorable to employees. For instance, the employer is required to keep accurate records as to the days and hours that the employees work. If it does not, the records of the employee as to their days and hours, if reasonable, are presumed to be accurate.

Many businesses try to call their workers “independent contractors". It is actually very hard for a business to justify such a status, and if the employer is wrong, the employee can recover for years of unpaid wages and overtime, the severe additional penalties and their attorneys’ fees. Whether a worker is an employee depends on whether (1) the worker is controlled by the business, (2) the worker's opportunity for profit depends on the business or the worker, (3) the relative investment of the worker and the business in generating income, (4) whether a special skill is required, (5) how permanent the worker’s relationship with the business is, and (6) whether the worker is integral to the business. If on balance the findings about these six criteria show that a worker should have been classified as an employee and not as an independent contractor, the employee should receive the Oregon minimum wage and all overtime.

A worker who is not paid wages or overtime is given additional penalties if they work for a business which is engaged in interstate commerce. If the worker does something in interstate commerce, such as a waitress working a credit card machine, that worker is covered by federal law in addition to Oregon law, and anyone who works for a business which has more that $500,000 in annual revenues, has more than two employees, and operates in interstate commerce (which almost every business of such size does in one way or another) is covered by federal as well as Oregon law. Federal law allows the imposition of liquidated damages equal to and in addition to the amount of unpaid wages or overtime.

A worker has six years to file a lawsuit bringing a claim against a business for unpaid wages or unpaid minimum wages, two years under Oregon law to bring an unpaid overtime claim, and at least two years under federal law for unpaid minimum wages and unpaid overtime, which can be increased to three years if the business either knew or did not care if it violated federal wage laws.

Finally, because the federal and state governments view the failure to pay wages as so important, they permit the unpaid employee to recover unpaid wages, additional severe penalties and attorneys fees against all individuals who have a role in owning the business or paying the employees. So even if the corporation an employee works for goes bankrupt, it is possible for an unpaid employee to recover against any of the business's owners or managers who oversaw the cash management of the business.