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Understanding your pay and your rights

Employers are supposed to pay you for the hours you worked according to any hiring agreement or contract and in compliance with federal and state laws. It seems like a simple enough statement, but this one requirement is often much more complex than you can imagine. Frequently, employees are underpaid because of poor accounting practices, misunderstandings about pay requirements or even employer decisions to save money by shorting pay in some way.

While many cases of wage disputes come down to misunderstandings or accounting mistakes, understanding how much pay you are supposed to receive is essential to making a claim for corrected pay. If employers balk at correcting pay, you might have a legal case against them.

One area where misunderstandings or errors commonly occur is in overtime calculations. First, employees must know whether they are entitled to overtime. First, the Fair Labor Standards act mandates overtime in a number of situations, especially for workers who are paid hourly. Salaried workers might also be eligible for overtime if they are paid a certain amount and don't meet definitions for exemption.

Managers or executives are typically exempt from overtime requirements. The law says that if you can make hiring and firing decisions, or your advice plays a role in such decisions, and you supervise two or more full-time workers, you fall into this category. Some administrative employees, such as Chief Financial Officers, are also exempt.

The law exempts certain types of professionals, such as accountants and doctors, from overtime requirements as well. If you have an advanced degree and are using that degree for your profession, you likely fall into this category. The rules aren't always as cut-and-dry as they appear to be in writing, though, so if you believe you are owed overtime or any type of wage the employer refuses to pay, consulting an attorney could help you understand what next steps to take.

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