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Jean   Murray

What To Do If You Aren't Paid as an Employee or Contractor

By February 3, 2013

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The most popular article I ever wrote is about the responsibility of employers to pay employees. Its popularity (over 75 comments since 2009) is not from businesses but from employees who want to know how they can get paid. Independent contractors also have the same problem. A recent email from a contractor said she had no written contract and had been paid previously but she didn't get paid her commission for over $40,000 in advertising.

There are three reasons businesses don't pay employees or contractors:

1. They are ignorant of the law. This applies to payments for overtime, sick pay, minimum wage.

2. They know the law but choose to ignore it. Some employers just don't want to pay overtime over 40 hours a week and hope they can get away with not doing so.

3. The biggest reason: they don't have the money. If a business is in trouble, often employees and contract workers are the first to be ignored.

The reality is harsh. If an employer chooses not to pay an employee or contract worker, there is almost no way for that individual to get his or her money easily or quickly. Every alternative involves a long process with no guarantees of payment.

Some options for attempting to get paid:

1. Contact the state employment service/wage and hour department and file a claim.

2. Contact an attorney and try to sue. If many employees are not paid, they may possibly be able to file a class action suit.

3. Go to small claims court, if the claim is under the state limit for small claims.

4. If the business is in bankruptcy, file a claim as a creditor. Unfortunately, employees and contractors are far down the list for payment, but you can't get paid if you're not on the list.

Most important - Document! If you have been paid previously, document payments. If you have a contract, that might help show the obligation. Include letters or emails relevant to the situation, like an email promising payment "when things get better."

I'm not saying you should give up, but sometimes no matter what you do, you won't get paid. For example, even if you win a judgment in small claims court, you may not get paid the money owed you. File a claim, but move on in the meantime.

More on What to Do about Non-payment for Services

More on Employer Obligations to Pay Employees

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