No employee should ever feel intimidated or fear retaliation because he or she reported a wage-related complaint to an employer or the Department of Labor. In fact, federal law protects employees from such action by their employers. Nonetheless, in 2015, the owners of a Texas restaurant fired their cook who had worked for the restaurant 13 years because they assumed he issued a wage-related complaint to a federal agency, although he never did.
The firing of the cook led to an investigation that revealed the restaurant owners were guilty of illegally withholding $25,000 in wages from their employees. As a result, the restaurant owners agreed to make an out-of-court settlement to the cook. Besides lost wages, they also recompensed him for liquidated damages and agreed to post an employees’ rights notice in a prominent spot in their restaurant. The employers also lost a valuable employee, since the cook decided to work for another employer.
As long as employees abide by the rules and work hard, employers are required by federal wage and hour laws to pay them for every hour they work. However, when employers refuse to abide by the law and purposely cheat their employees or undocumented workers by not paying them or paying them subminimum wages, they not only threaten the livelihood of their workers but also expose themselves to possible criminal and civil lawsuits. In many cases, when undocumented or low-wage workers’ rights are violated, they may fear retaliation if they report their employers.
Employers are obligated by the law to fully recompense their hourly and nonexempt employees, including paying them for overtime if they worked for more than 40 hours in a week. Employees who believe their employer has not paid them fairly and lawfully might benefit from speaking with an attorney who is knowledgeable in the area of employment law.