Unpaid labor is a dirty secret for many businesses. The law is clear about the fact that workers, especially hourly workers, should receive compensation for all of the time that they work for a company. However, many businesses will force their staff members to perform tasks off the clock.

For example, employees working at a bookstore might have to volunteer to read a book on their own time every month and then lead a discussion group without getting paid for any of that time. Wait staff or bussers at a restaurant might get trained to clock out before they do prep for the following shift like rolling silverware or stacking place settings in prep areas.

In most of these kinds of situations, the employees who didn’t get paid for their time have the right to bring a claim against their employer for unpaid wages.

Companies require off-the-clock work to reduce staff costs and prevent overtime

Employee wages are often one of the biggest expenses that businesses have, especially those that provide services or goods to the public. Businesses often try to minimize staffing costs, sometimes by having a firm rule against overtime.

If the existing staff can’t get everything done in under 40 hours a week, management might just try to force them into working without compensation so that they don’t have to pay overtime wages. Other times, they might expect unpaid work from staff members who don’t get anywhere close to 40 hours in a given week just as a way to keep their overall wage costs lower.

Companies also try to manipulate salaried workers for unpaid labor

One of the fastest and simplest ways for a company to exempt its practices from overtime pay requirements is to classify workers as salaried employees rather than hourly ones. Some companies will pay the lowest salary that they can get away with and then expect 60 hours of work a week from their staff members.

In order to counter this kind of predatory practice, the federal government has recently increased the minimum exempt salary to $35,568. Anyone paid less than that should also receive overtime wages for extra hours worked.

Regardless of whether you are a salaried worker or an hourly one, if your employer has demanded that you work off the clock when you should qualify for overtime pay, you may need to seriously consider bringing a wage claim against the company.