Man holding moneyIt seems obvious.  Employees should be paid the wages they have earned, whether those wages be from hours worked, commissions, bonuses, et cetera.  But, what happens when an employer fails to compensate an employee for his or her labor?  In Arizona, this hypothetical is governed by ARS Title 23, Article 7.

A.R.S. § 23-351(C) states that “each employer shall, on each of the regular paydays, pay to the employees all wages due the employees up to such date.”  Further, § 23-355(A) states that “if an employer . . . fails to pay wages due any employee, the employee may recover in a civil action against an employer or former employer an amount that is treble the amount of the unpaid wages.”  Simply put, whether you are still working for an employer or not, an employer is required by law to pay you what you have earned.  If the employer fails to do so, you could take them to court and potentially recover triple the wages you are owed.

How to Recover Your Unpaid Wages

If the amount of unpaid wages is less than $5,000, an employee may either launch a civil action against his employer or file a written claim with the department for unpaid wages.  If the unpaid wages totals more than $5,000, the employee’s only option for recovery is a civil action against the employer.

An employee has one year from the date wages were earned to file an unpaid wages claim.  To file a claim for unpaid wages with the Labor Department, an employee should go to http://www.ica.state.az.us/Labor/Labor_WagClm_main.aspx.  Here, the employee will find a wage claim form and frequently asked questions about wage claims.  The form will need to be completely filled out; incomplete forms will not be accepted.  The employee should also submit any documents that could support his claim (i.e., pay stubs, company policies).

If an employee chooses to file a civil action against the employer for the unpaid wages, they may do so “no later than two years after a violation last occurs, or three years in the case of a willful violation.” A.R.S. § 23-364(H).

What Will You Be Able to Recover?

Because they are a punitive measure, treble damages are only appropriate “when an employer withholds wages unreasonably and in bad faith.” Swanson v. Image Bank, Inc., 43 P.3d 174, 183 (Ariz. Ct. App. 2002).  If there is a reasonable good-faith dispute about how much an employee is owed, a court is not likely going to award the employee punitive damages.  The “imposition of treble damages . . . is permissive, not mandatory.” Id.  This “element of discretion merely reflects that such an award may be inappropriate when a wage dispute ‘involves a valid close question of law or fact which should be properly decided by the courts,’ or when failure to pay wages was due to an inadvertent mistake.” Id.  Even if the court finds an employee is not entitled to treble damages, an employee is still entitled to the wages he actually earned.

Conclusion

Keep track of your hours worked and your paystubs.  If things are not matching up, there is a remedy out there for you.  Address things with your employer first and if they are uncooperative you may be able to file a claim with the Labor Department or commence a civil action.  Whether you are making minimum wage or much more, your time is valuable and your employer is required by law to pay you for it.

If you need assistance with the process of obtaining a judgment, or if you want help collecting a judgment, contact an attorney who is familiar with those areas of law.

The attorneys at Windtberg & Zdancewicz, PLC provide clients with experienced legal representation in all litigation and bankruptcy matters. We are experienced in creditor’s rights prosecuting and defending garnishments, charging orders, attachment, property execution, trustee’s sales, foreclosures, judgments, judgment collection, domestication of foreign judgments, and creditor’s issues in bankruptcy cases. If you need assistance with your collection matters, please contact us at (480) 584-5660.