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What If an Arizona Employer Won’t Pay Wages?

Categories: Employment, Article

How to get your employer to pay you for unpaid wages.

If you are working for an Arizona employer and feel that you have not been paid all of the wages you are owed, there are several things you need to know. 

First, what kind of wages are you owed? Minimum wages? Overtime wages? Ordinary wages? The difference matters because different agencies have jurisdiction to address these claims.   

If you believe you are owed minimum wages, you can file a complaint with the Arizona Industrial Commission. The Arizona Industrial Commission has jurisdiction to address minimum wage claims of $5,000 or less. And since the Arizona minimum wage is much higher than the federal minimum wage, you should bring a claim for unpaid Arizona minimum wage with the Arizona Industrial Commission rather than the U.S. Department of Labor. The Arizona Industrial Commission has an online complaint form. They generally do a good job investigating claims and obtaining payment. They are also free, so this is generally a better approach than paying for an attorney. 

However, plaintiff’s employment attorneys are generally willing to accept minimum wage cases because the law is very favorable to employees. Most importantly, courts are required to award an employee attorney’s fees when they prevail on a minimum wage claim, which is why plaintiff’s attorneys generally like these cases. If your wage claim is $5,000 or less, I recommend filing with the Arizona Industrial Commission. If your claim is over $5,000, then you cannot file with the Arizona Industrial Commission, and you should consult an attorney. 

If you believe you are owed overtime wages, you can file a claim with the U.S. Department of Labor. You can also consult with an attorney. Again, if your claim is less than $5,000, you may be better off filing a complaint with the Department of Labor. If, on the other hand, your claim is over $5,000, you may wish to consult with an attorney. The U.S. Department of Labor has jurisdiction to address overtime claims over $5,000, but a plaintiff’s attorney may be willing to accept your case on a contingency if you are owed $5,000 or more.

If you believe you are owed ordinary wages, the Arizona Industrial Commission has jurisdiction to address such claims if they are for $5,000 or less. You can access that complaint form here. If your claim is over $5,000, you should consult with an attorney because the Commission does not have jurisdiction.

If the court finds that your employer failed to pay you any of the above wages in bad faith, you can recover two or three times the amount you are owed depending on the type of wages owed. You can also recover an award of attorney’s fees. That way, you get to keep all of the wages you should have been paid. Courts are generally very sympathetic to employees who can demonstrate that their employer had no good faith basis for failing to pay them and will award fees and order the employer to pay two or three times the amount owed. These cases also tend to settle pretty quickly because employers are concerned about the consequences for noncompliance.  It doesn’t make financial sense for an employer to defend against such claims when they can be settled for the amount owed.

If you believe your employer is not paying you properly, it is always a good idea to get legal advice. Your employer may be violating other laws that you do not know about. An attorney can also help you understand how to best file a complaint with the proper agencies to ensure that you present the information in a way that gives you the best chance of getting paid. Also, determining whether or not you are owed overtime can be complex.

You should consult a lawyer whenever you have any employment law issue. But, if you cannot afford one and your claim for wages is under $5,000, you can file a complaint with the agencies mentioned in this article.    

About the Author:Jeffrey Silence is a partner at the Phoenix law firm of Jaburg Wilk who practices employment law. He helps employers and employees address any employment issue they may have by finding creative solutions to their problems.

"Jaburg Wilk has a unique culture that is different than other law firms. We call it the "JW Way."