What If My Employer Pays Me Less Than Minimum Wage?

Find out what you can do if your employer refuses to pay you minimum wage.

By , J.D. · University of Missouri School of Law

Question: What If My Employer Pays Less Than Minimum Wage?

I work part-time for a business with only six workers, and I make $7.00 per hour. The company sells things online for people who don't have the time or know-how to do it themselves, then takes part of the proceeds as a fee.

The owner told me he doesn't have to pay minimum wage because it is such a small business. Is this true?


First of all, hats off to you for looking up your rights. As you have no doubt discovered, your boss is paying you less than the federal minimum wage, set out in the Fair Labor Standards Act. As of 2024, the minimum wage is $7.25 per hour.

Any company that engages in "interstate commerce" must pay the federal minimum wage, no matter how many or how few employees it has. As a practical matter, this means the vast majority of businesses are subject to the minimum wageand, based on your description of what it does, your company is too.

Your state's minimum wage might be even higher, and your local county or city government might also have a more generous minimum wage. Employers have to follow whichever wage law is most generous to employees.

What to Do If You're Not Being Paid Minimum Wage

Confront Your Boss

If your pay is below the minimum wage, your first course of action should be to tell your employer that it is legally required to pay you the minimum wage. In many cases, this will resolve the issue. However, if those pleas fall on deaf ears, you have a number of legal options.

File a Complaint With the U.S. Department of Labor

If you're not being paid the minimum wage in the state where you work, you can file a complaint with the Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division.

If your employer has violated the law, you might be entitled to collect back paythe money you would have earned had you been paid the legal minimum wage.

Under the FLSA, you generally must file your lawsuit within two years of your employer's most recent minimum wage violation. That deadline is extended to three years when the violation was willful.

File a Wage Claim With Your State's Labor Department

As an alternative, you can file a wage claim with your state's labor department. Strict deadlines apply, so don't delay. In California, for example, wage claims must be filed within three years of the most recent violation.

Can You File a Lawsuit If You're Not Paid the Minimum Wage?

If you're not being paid the minimum wage you're entitled to under the law, you can file a lawsuit against your employer.

Depending on the amount of money at stake, you might be eligible to file the claim in small claims court. But note that if your employer also failed to pay your coworkers the minimum wage, you might have a valuable class action claim, even if your individual claim isn't high-value.

If your claim is for thousands of dollars, or you might have a class action claim, contact an employment attorney to discuss the best way forward.

If you win your lawsuit, you can receive back pay, which is the amount of money you should have been paid, and potentially other other damages and penalties.

Each state has its own statute of limitations for wage-related lawsuits, so don't wait to file your claim. In California, for example, a lawsuit based on unpaid wages (including minimum wage violations) must be filed within three years of the most recent violation.

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