Wage and hour disputes have increased almost every year since the beginning of the new millennium, according to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. On March 31, 2012 -- the year-end date for the most recent statistical period -- there 7,064 federal wage and hour cases. That's nearly four times the amount of cases in 2000, when there were 1,854 such cases.
So what is driving this decade-long burst of wage and hour disputes?
It is a perfectly human reaction to want to contest your wage upon learning that you have been fired or terminated from a job. This can be a good thing; it can also be a bad thing. Many people contest these matters simply from a vengeful position -- "sticking it to the man," so to speak.
These types of lawsuits do not have a high success rate, and they give wage and hour disputes, in general, a bad name. There really are people out there who have legitimate cases against their current or former employers for being underpaid or having their wages tampered with.
Another factor in the rise of wage and hour disputes is the poor economy. Though it is scratching and clawing its way towards recovery, many people are struggling financially. As a result, they are more apt to file a wage and hour claim against their current or former employers in an effort to earn some compensation they believe they deserve.
High unemployment also contributes to this rise. Because many people are out of work -- and considering companies and workers alike know this -- the employer is in a position of strength. They can ask workers, who are afraid to lose their job, to work long hours, extra hours or to perform other extensive tasks that, normally, they wouldn't have to do. If these employees are subsequently laid off or fired (for any reason), the employees no longer have that fear. Thus, without the prospects of retaliation, they file lawsuits against their former employer.
Regardless of economic factors or personal motives, the fact is that wage and hour disputes are an important function that ensures workers are paid an appropriate amount and that their employee rights are not violated. No company can compromise your wage or pay you under local or federal wage floors, nor can they empower you to accept such a wage simply because unemployment is a scary prospect.