Iowans are known for their work ethic and so it’s particularly disturbing when an employer doesn’t pay an employee the wages they’ve earned. This is known as wage theft. Iowa employees are protected against wage theft both through a federal law known as the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) but also through an Iowa law known as the Iowa Wage Payment Collection Act, Iowa Code Chapter 91.A. Unfortunately, a lot of employees don’t know their rights under these employment laws.
The FLSA requires that most employers pay employees minimum wage for hours worked and also requires that employers pay employees one and a half times their regular hourly rate for hours worked over 40. The FLSA also requires that employers count time spent performing certain work as hours worked and prohibits agreements between an employer and an employee to pay the employee less than minimum wage or not to pay the employee overtime owed.
The FLSA requires that employers pay employees for time spent doing things that are “integral and indispensable” to the employees’ work activity. This can include time spent putting on specialized protective equipment and then walking to the employee work station and time spent traveling between worksites. One of the most famous FLSA cases about these issues came out of Iowa—Tyson Foods, Inc. v. Bouaphakeo was an Iowa case that went all the way to the US Supreme Court. That case was a class action where employees of the Tyson Meat Packing Plant were awarded back pay, including overtime owed, for time they spent “donning and doffing” protective equipment.
In addition to the FLSA, Iowa employees’ right to wages is protected by the Iowa Wage Payment Collection Act. The Iowa Wage Payment Collection Act requires that an employer pay wages due on regular pay days and that an employer pay the employee all wages on the first regular pay day after the employee’s termination of employment. Many employers violate this law by withholding an employee’s last paycheck or by deducting expenses from a paycheck that are not permissible. Iowa law prohibits an employer from withholding wages for the following:
A cash shortage unless there is a written agreement;
Losses of the employer due to customer non-payment, breakage or bad checks;
Lost or stolen property;
Tips/gratuities received by the employee;
Protective equipment; and
Costs of more than $20 for employee relocation expenses.
The Iowa Wage Payment Collection Act also prohibits an employer from withholding employee wages because they believe they have a claim against that employee.
Both the FLSA and the Iowa Wage Payment Collection Act allow an employee to recover back wages along with liquidated damages and attorneys’ fees and expenses—meaning that if an employer violates one of these laws they wind up paying more than they would if they had simply paid the employee what was owed.
If you have questions about whether your current or former employer has violated employment laws, you should speak with an Iowa employment lawyer to determine if you have a case. Please call us at (319) 826-2250.