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5 Signs Your Boss May Be Underpaying You

September 18, 2015 Wage Theft & Unpaid Wages

Unscrupulous employers may count on workers not knowing their rights

We don’t want to paint every employer as a “bad actor.” In fact, plenty of companies treat their employees well.

But the reality is that there are also plenty of companies looking to take advantage of their workers.

Underpayment of wages, otherwise known as “wage theft,” is a problem that can not only result in smaller paychecks for workers – it also can have a ripple effect on their families and dependents.

We recently discussed the legal issues around wage theft in another blog post, but today we want to take a look at how it plays out in Pennsylvania workplaces every day.

Workers who know what to look for will be in a better position to ensure they collect the wages that they earned.

Here are five ways employers may be skimming employees’ paychecks.

1. Your employer is using fuzzy math to add up your hours

Workers are commonly shorted out of earned overtime when employers put forth intentionally confusing explanations for overtime calculations.

For example, managers may assert that overtime is calculated based on a two-week or monthly pay period. They may claim that certain work time doesn’t count, such as “on call” time. Some employers may pay workers by the day and then claim that the weekly total of hours is not relevant.

However, federal law dictates that overtime must be calculated based on the number of hours worked per week. The company’s internal pay periods or procedures are generally irrelevant to this calculation.

2. Your title is manager, but you work alongside everyone else

Misclassifying employees is an extremely common way that companies duck out of overtime. Companies may craft job descriptions to classify someone as management in order to use the “white-collar exemption” when, in fact, most of the person’s duties are similar to regular workers’ responsibilities. 

It’s important to know that the U.S. Department of Labor has guidelines governing who is exempt or nonexempt—and a person’s status is not dependent on his or her job title alone.

(See this blog post for more information on how overtime status is determined, as well as how new rules in 2016 may apply.)

3. You work 40 hours a week at one job, but you’re called an independent contractor

Classifying people as independent contractors is a strategy many companies use to get out of providing benefits to workers and paying payroll taxes to the government.

That means workers are on the hook to get their own health insurance and pay all of their employment taxes.

Much like exempt/nonexempt status, independent contractor status is determined by much more than what an employer chooses to call a worker.

(See this blog post for more information about independent contractors’ rights.)

4. You get dinged for meal breaks that you never got to take

Many people end up skipping meal breaks or eating while working to cover busy periods.

However, despite the skipped breaks, some workers still find that that their employer has automatically deducted 30-minute meal breaks for each workday.

If that happens consistently, a person could end up working 20+ hours per month without compensation.

5. Your pay is late, short, or your check is no good

Some employers intentionally write bad checks and then make themselves unavailable to workers.

Some employers accuse workers of breaking or stealing equipment and then deduct these expenses from their paychecks.

And some businesses continually give the “I’ll pay you next week” excuse … and then the employee finds that he or she is owed weeks or months of compensation.

What You Need to Know

The bottom line is that there are myriad ways employers can attempt to fleece employees—and they can get away with it because employees often don’t know any better.

Don’t let your employer take money that belongs to you. If you think you’ve been a victim of wage theft, it’s best to speak to an attorney.

Email us at or call (267) 273-1054 for a free consultation.