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What should I do if my check looks light?

It happened again. It's Friday. You're exhausted. It's been a long week and you missed your child's game again. You drive to work to get your check even though it's your day off. But at least you made some extra money, maybe enough to get that new bat. You slice through the envelope and your check slides out. You can't be sure, but the number looks a little light. It happened again!

It's no big deal you tell yourself. It only happens every now and then. Regardless, you need this job. You can't ruffle the wrong feathers. Your employer is hoping that you feel this way? in fact he is counting on it.

Under federal law, you are entitled to receive overtime pay for all time worked in excess of 40 hours in any one workweek. A workweek may begin on any day or hour, so long as it is 168 consecutive hours. Overtime pay must be 50 percent higher than your base wage (or time and a half). Your employer is not permitted to offset your overtime pay with goods or time off; it must be paid in wages. You cannot waive these rights no matter what your boss may have said to you.

If you believe that your overtime pay is being artificially reduced by your employer, then there are a few steps you should take just in case. First, save your pay stubs. If you haven't saved your pay stubs, you can request the records from your employer. Second, save or request your work log to know exactly your clock in and out times. These documents will detail how much overtime you are owed and what specifically your employer omitted from your check. Also consider that if your check is light, it is likely that your fellow employees were also cheated.

Employers also try to avoid paying overtime by misclassifying their workers. Crafty employers do this by classifying you as an independent contractor, executive or professional. If you signed paperwork, do not worry; you cannot consent your way into an exempt classification.

If you feel overwhelmed by the numbers, rules and technical language don't worry. There is a reason an entire subset of attorneys is devoted to employment-based litigation. An attorney can be helpful in digesting these issues.

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