So, while my current job is going pretty well in general, I have recently noticed by tracking my pay stubs that I am being paid appx. 3 hours short per workweek. While I was going through the process of comparing my records to the company records, one of my coworkers mentioned that this is happening to him as well, and is the result of the employer not paying overtime wage increases as well as not paying for the extra hour of time legally required when employees are required to skip their mandated lunches and instead subtracting a half-hour's pay as if an unpaid lunch was taken. Upon further discussion this appears to be the case for a least everyone who was on shift at the time (I'm the new guy), the people who have worked at the place the longest were already aware of it but many other people weren't, and no one has talked to or is planning on talking to the owners on the assumption that they must already know and are doing this on purpose and there's nothing we can do.

The current business owners bought the place in October of last year and the changes in payment started then. My job includes a stable schedule and I started off work having to skip one lunch per week, but later agreed to change to skipping two lunches per week and working an hour less time since the pay would be roughly equivalent (I get a half-hour more hourly pay, but I have a half-hour less in which to earn tips, which normally double my hourly pay) and an hour more free-time a week is fair trade for the more strenuous work. I explained my reasons for accepting the schedule change to my employer when I did so, and they did not seem surprised about my expectation of receiving the legally mandated pay for working without a lunch break, which lends some credence to the idea that the employers already are aware they ought to be paying, but I think it's more likely that they aren't paying because no one's brought it up.

I'm concerned that if I bring it up, I will be fired, as the amount owed in back wages to all of us is extremely high-- I only skip two lunches a week but my coworker skips 6 and the store runs on two dish washers who each work 10-12 hour shifts 6 days a week and apparently haven't been being paid overtime. There's also two chefs that organize the rest of the chefs, sort of like a manager, and they work overtime pretty regularly as well and don't ever get breaks (they're not salaried). So just running off of the people who directly participated in the one conversation that was had about this, it sounds like they owe a rather absurd amount of money, and I'm not sure that they actually have the funds to pay us. What should I do? It seems mean not to say anything, since they very well might not realize what's going on and it could seriously disrupt their business at some point in the future. Also if they're gonna stick to not paying for overtime or skipped lunches then I want to switch back to the old schedule but I'm not sure how to bring that up.

My coworkers were pretty adamant that talking to the boss about this would be career suicide, and that I should drop this immediately, but I don't really trust them on that because it seems to me that a lack of communication often breeds that attitude.

My friend-I-normally-ask-about-work-advice says I should file a wage claim with the Labor Commissioner's Office, but that seems like a really bad idea because then I would be out of a job and blacklisted for having sued an employer.

  • @JoeStrazzere On SE, I tend to say "ass+u+me" as per the joke, instead of just "assume" Though it starts to look like an algebraic equation when trying for "assuming" or "assumption." Feb 14, 2017 at 4:34

3 Answers 3


Taking legal action against an employer rarely looks good long term and usually puts a big strain on your employment.

I've been in similar situations where I'm not in highly skilled employment and being shafted over money like the rest. There are two ways to go apart from legal action, which since I'm not a lawyer I won't advise on.

Firstly (you should be doing this anyway if you're in a dead end job) look for another job while surviving on what you make from your current one.

Secondly (and this has worked for me more than once) without threatening legal action, go and inform the boss privately that you're not getting paid whats owed and basically you need the money. I never cared what the rest of the team is getting, I'm not their mum, nor am I trying to lead a mutiny, if they don't want to stand up for themselves that is their problem.

It's very expensive if the boss has to give everyone more, but not so bad if it's a private negotiation with just you getting more. I did this several times as a forestry worker, but I was a very good worker and therefore an asset as an individual. So it's a judgement call. Then if you do get it, you don't tell anyone you're getting more, just do your own thing quietly and let them whinge to each other.

  • So what you're advocating is instead of doing the right thing (getting the employer busted for wage theft and illegal underpayment) they should see that they get theirs and let the colleagues suffer?
    – Magisch
    Feb 13, 2017 at 8:20
  • 2
    I do the right thing by me, I'm not a policeman, or a nanny, just a pragmatic bloke struggling through life
    – Kilisi
    Feb 13, 2017 at 8:50
  • 3
    @Magisch That's the kind of thing that's easy to say about someone else's job from behind a keyboard, but it's less easy when it's your job on the line. Kilisi's answer is easily the most pragmatic one here. Feb 13, 2017 at 9:13
  • 1
    @jpatokal a bit sad but definitively true, people that became known becausethey sued their company or alert about illegal activities have a hard time finding a job after.
    – Walfrat
    Feb 13, 2017 at 12:14
  • 3
    I have a rule that I always go by. "Always, ALWAYS put yourself first. Then help other as much as possible for as long as it doesn't negatively affect you". Going by this rule I've helped more people than I could keep track of. But I'm never going out of my way to help others if it will ruin me. If you have a slice of bread, feed yourself first before feeding others. So that you will be strong enough to help more.
    – Migz
    Feb 14, 2017 at 14:17

Where do you live? In the US you can go to the state labor commission. They are also not paying taxes on that money. I worked at a job where they only paid us when the customer paid. Someone turned them in and boom we all got paid and it was not disclosed who turned them in. If you have to be named on the suit then I agree that is a different situation. If you have a labor union you can report to them.


You can either accept what is happening, or try to correct it. If you try to correct it, you will either be successful and continue with your job, be successful (get back pay) and lose your job, not be successful and lose your job, not be successful and continue with your job (same as accepting the current situation)

With the exception of the last, we can't possibly rank the likelyhood of the possible outcomes (it's least likely if your attempt to correct includes reporting it to the authorities). We certainly can't advise you as to which course of action is best for you to follow.

  • I'm looking for a more in-depth treatment of what 'trying to correct it' should look like. How should I phrase the question to get that? I'm not looking for advice as to whether to try and correct it or not (though that would be a possible frame challenge) but rather what I should do/should make sure NOT to do if going the 'correct it' route. Should I get all of my coworkers together formally before discussing it? Should I contact the Labor Commissioner before my boss? Should I avoid implying they made a mistake when talking to them? That sort of thing. Feb 12, 2017 at 6:31
  • 1
    @thedarkwanderer: delete most of your current text, replace it with "my company isn't paying it's employees for all hours worked" and an editted version of the above comment. Include you location (country andor state as appropriate). You might also include your priorities, backpay, fix going forward, keeping your job, estimate as to companies resources (can they actually pay the back pay without going out of business).
    – jmoreno
    Feb 12, 2017 at 12:59

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .