In many legal systems, employees have a right to receive additional pay for time spent working that is considered overtime. In the United States, the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1934 established the legal right to overtime pay for American workers. If an employer fails to abide by the requirements of the act, then the employee may file an overtime lawsuit against the employer. Prior to filing the lawsuit, an employee should first determine that he or she was eligible for overtime pay. If eligible, an employee may choose to file a complaint with the Wage-Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor or may choose to bring a private overtime lawsuit against the employer.
The rules regarding overtime pay can be confusing, so a clear understanding of whether or not an employee is eligible is necessary before proceeding with a complaint or an overtime lawsuit. Most hourly workers, and some salaried workers, are entitled to overtime pay. Whether or not the hours worked are considered overtime is another consideration. The Fair Labor Standards Act can be accessed through the United States Department of Labor website for clarification.
Many employees who feel they have not received required overtime pay choose to file a complaint with the Wage-Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor. Filing a complaint does not preclude filing an overtime lawsuit, but it may resolve the problem without the need to file an official lawsuit. If it appears that a violation is present, an investigation will be opened on behalf of the employee. In many cases, the employee is able to obtain any pay due within a relatively short period of time by going through the Wage-Hour Division.
If the employer is not cooperative or contends that the employee is not due any overtime pay, then another benefit of starting with a complaint through the Wage-Hour Division is that they may choose to proceed with a lawsuit on your behalf. By working with the Wage-Hour Division, there are no upfront costs incurred by the employee, such as attorney fees. The downside is that the employee will have very little control over the legal proceedings and recovery may be limited to any back pay due.
An employee who is owed overtime pay may also choose to file a private overtime lawsuit. To do this, he or she must retain an attorney at his or her own cost. If the employer has been systematically denying overtime pay to all employees, then a class-action lawsuit may be an option. In that case, the expenses may be shared by the participants or the attorney may not require a retainer fee at all. The advantages to filing a private lawsuit are that the employee will have more control over the proceedings and there may be additional compensation ordered, such as attorneys fees or punitive damages.