On the clock or off the clock: When must a Texas employer pay you?

Legal News GavelStudies have found that employers underpaying workers is a huge problem in America. Texas is not immune from this problem. From 2014 to July 2017, $29.5 million in back pay was awarded to workers under the Texas Payday Law. However, this figure may not represent what’s truly owed. It doesn’t include back pay owed to workers who don’t realize they’ve been shorted, or who are undocumented and are afraid to involve the government for fear of deportation or other retaliation.

From January 2014 – July 2017, there were 42,788 complaints filed under Texas law. Eight hundred employers were assessed bad-faith penalties of $1.17 million for knowing underpayment of workers. Under Texas law, individual penalties cannot be more than the lesser of $1,000 or unpaid wages.

Sometimes Texas employers require or encourage workers to do work “off the clock.” This is work that isn’t compensated and isn’t tallied as part of your weekly hours when calculating overtime. Off-the-clock work may be illegal. Assuming you are a nonexempt employee, the time you spend doing things for your employer is supposed to be compensated. However, in some cases, employees do not realize this. They may volunteer to do work off the clock so that they seem appropriately enthusiastic about their careers, or simply because they enjoy working.

Off-the-clock work can happen, for example, if you are asked to do extra work after your shift is over or if you stay late to meet a deadline. Off-the-clock work can also consist of your completing paperwork or going to a management meeting or attending a training that your employer wants you to attend. It may include preparing a construction worksite or setting up a restaurant, reworking a report based on the employer’s criticism of it, or waiting for an assignment when there aren’t any immediate tasks to do. You may not realize that time spent when you are waiting to do a task or assignment is time that should be compensated. For example, if you are a night watchman who is supposed to wait at a particular location away from your house and respond to night emergencies as they arise, you should be paid for the time spent waiting for emergencies to arise.

The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which applies to most workers, requires nonexempt employees to be paid overtime whenever they work beyond 40 hours in a week for all work done for employers. If you file a complaint, you may be entitled to three years of back wages for the hours you weren’t paid, as well as any overtime you weren’t paid. You might be entitled to receive liquidated damages. An employer can avoid paying liquidated damages, however, by showing it behaved in good faith.

Some managers assume that if they aren’t demanding that the employee work off the clock, it’s fine for them to work off the clock. However, even employees who voluntarily work unpaid can change their minds in the future and ask for back pay and liquidated damages for the time they spent working “off the clock.”

It can be important to obtain representation from an experienced employment lawyer when you have a dispute with your employer regarding unpaid wages or other matters. Contact us at (214) 528-6500 or via our online intake form.

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