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Understanding Wage Rights

One of the most fundamental aspects of employment is receiving a paycheck reflecting an agreed upon amount of labor and wage. However, if an employment relationship deteriorates, one common tactic often used to try and cow an employee into submission is a refusal to pay wages. This is against the law and, unless your employer can prove an extremely specific set of facts, it is also grounds for a lawsuit. In this article, we’ll discuss the laws against not paying employees in South Carolina.

Laws Against Not Paying Employees

While many employment discrimination or employer malfeasance cases are better suited for federal oversight, South Carolina’s Department of Labor, Licensing & Regulation (DLLR) is the place to start when handling wage claims. This is true even if you allege that the withholding is due to discrimination or some other malicious reason. Assuming that your employer has not simply made an accounting mistake, the first step is to send a written complaint to DLLR. Under South Carolina law, once the complaint is received, the DLLR may (but does not have to) investigate the violation and try to resolve it via mediation. In this role, they act as a go-between for the employer and employee.

DLLR has jurisdiction over claims made under South Carolina’s Wage Payment Act, but if their efforts to assist in a settlement do not pan out, you may bring the matter to civil court. If you file a strictly wage-and-hour based claim, Sec 41-10-80(c) states that you may recover up to three times the amount of the unpaid wages if your employer is found to be liable. However, if you believe there is a discriminatory element involved, it may be a good idea to try and pursue legal action under the Human Affairs Law. At the state level, this can be done via the Human Affairs Commission. If you seek federal help and prevail, your recovery amount will roughly be the same.

Overtime Claims

There are laws against not paying employees, but there are also laws for more ambiguous pay areas, like overtime. An alternate set of rules, regulations, and proper legal action applies if your employer has paid you, but not for hours that count as overtime.  According to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which is federal legislation, each eligible employee is entitled to at least time and a half (if not more) for each hour worked over 40. However, there are very specific rules about who is eligible and who is not. If you are exempt (not eligible), you are not entitled to any overtime pay.

However, if you meet one or more of the following criteria, you are eligible for overtime pay and thus may have a case against your employer. Non-exempt employees include those who:

  • Make less than $23,600 per year
  • Are not in management, and perform maintenance, kitchen, janitorial, clerical or secretarial work, or something similar
  • Are an hourly employee
  • Are commissioned employees who do not travel regularly for work
  • Are salaried employees earning less than $455 per week (not including executive or administrative professionals)

If your employment situation qualifies you as non-exempt, contacting an attorney is a good next step.

Ask An Experienced Legal Professional

There are numerous reasons why wages may be withheld, but only some of them are legal. Laws against paying employees are clear. If you believe you may have a case against your employer, attorney A. Christopher Potts and his Charleston employment discrimination firm may be able to assist. Contact our office today to set up an initial appointment.

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