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Not Paying Workers - Don't Do It!

This may seem like an obvious point, but it isn't obvious to everyone. Generally, you must pay wages to anyone who works for you. Period. Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and most state laws, employees may not volunteer their services to a for-profit private sector business. There are some exceptions, but those are best discussed with your attorney. Even if your employee says they want to do it and you have a good relationship with that employee, don’t do it. Positive working relationships are good until they aren’t. Department of Labor audits aren’t started by employees who are happy with their boss.

I represented an employee who worked full-time for her employer for six months. She kept track of her hours by writing them in a spiral notebook. Her employer initially paid her some of her wages, but the business was just starting out and the employer couldn’t pay her all her wages. After about a month, the owner stopped paying her anything. Promising to make it up to her when business improved. The employee wanted to help her boss out, so she continued to work for her for another four months or so, without receiving any pay. The business closed after six months, and my client was out of a job. Not the worst thing since she wasn’t being paid. She talked to her boss about her back wages, but her boss was unable and unwilling to pay her. The owner said the employee had volunteered to work for the business, so the owner didn’t owe her the back wages. The employee hired me to represent her, and we filed in small claims court. The business owner got a lawyer but was unable to pay when the case dragged on and decided to represent herself. The initial amount of the back wages owed was $5,822. On the day of the final hearing, we settled the case for $14,678. Almost triple the amount of the original back pay claim. That total amount included the statutory allowance for damages and interest of $2,678, attorney’s fees of $6,178, as provided by the statute, and the back wages.

As you can see, this mistake can cost you a lot of money in back wages, interest, penalties, and attorney’s fees for your attorney and the employee’s attorney. The Illinois Wage Payment and Collections Act is an extremely strict statute and even includes criminal charges associated with the willful refusal to pay wages. Don’t do it.

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