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Enforcement of employee rights under federal law

Employees and business owners in New York should be aware of one of the important aspects of federal employment law. Wage and hour laws exist to protect employees by addressing situations in which they are not paid fairly for the work they have performed. These laws protect all employees, even if they are undocumented immigrants.

If federal employment law applied only to people who were working legally in the U.S., it would incentivize employers to hire illegal immigrants and pay them unfairly. The employees would then be left without their earnings and without recourse. As a safeguard, federal law prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who communicate or file complaints in pursuit of fair compensation. The protection applies whether the complaint is filed with the employer or with a government entity.

The U.S. Department of Labor often conducts investigations even when no complaint has been filed. The restaurant and food service industry is one of the major areas of focus for such investigations because, according to the Department of Labor, that is an industry where evidence indicates employers are more likely to violate employment law. During the Department of Labor's 2015 fiscal year, its enforcement actions recovered more than $74 million for more than 100,000 people working in low-wage jobs. Since 2009, Department of Labor enforcement actions have resulted in more than $1.6 billion recovered for more than 1.7 million employees in the U.S.

Employees who are engaged in wage disputes, such as a failure to pay overtime or the prevailing minimum wage, may want to meet with an attorney to see what recourse they may have. An attorney can review the situation and see if a settlement can be negotiated in lieu of filing a complaint with the Department of Labor or applicable state agency.

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