How to defend your employment rights

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If you think your employer is not paying you fairly or breaking other work laws, here are some steps you can take. It is best to act as soon as possible.

Keep your own records of hours worked and wages paid.

Keep track of your hours and your wages. It will help you figure out if your employer is following the law. If your employer is not following the law, good records will make it easier to protect your legal rights.

If you get a paycheck, keep all your check stubs or photocopy or take pictures of your checks.

If you get paid in cash, keep a notebook or a note in your phone. Write the:

  • dates that you worked,
  • number of hours that you worked on each day,
  • dates that you were paid, and
  • amounts that you were paid.

Or, you can download the free DOL Timesheet App from the U.S. Department of Labor.

Organize as a group.

Try to get together with coworkers, so that your employer cannot single out one worker. Getting together in a group will show strength and support for your issue. Even if you are not a member of a union, the National Labor Relations Act protects your right to join together with your coworkers to advocate for improvements in your working conditions and protect your interests as employees. It also protects your right to organize a union with your coworkers and makes it illegal for your employer to retaliate against your group for taking these actions.  

You can organize with coworkers, community groups, or unions to bring pressure on your employer. Since laws do not cover all problems and legal procedures can be slow, sometimes you can get quicker or better results by using the media, consumer boycotts, pickets, and pressure from community leaders.

Unionized employees can negotiate a union contract that offers workers better working conditions than the general labor and employment laws.

Think about using a lawyer.

A lawyer can discuss your rights with your employer. Lawyers call this kind of conversation “negotiating.”

Your lawyer can also sue your employer. If you win the case, the court can order your employer to pay you up to 3 times the amount of unpaid wages, costs, and attorney fees. You might hear the lawyer or judge talk about this order to “recover damages.”

See Find a Lawyer.

File a complaint with the Massachusetts Attorney General.

If your employer breaks the law, you can file a complaint about their wage or work violation with the Massachusetts Office of the Attorney General. You can file a complaint online or call 617-727-3465. The Office of the Attorney General can ask for payment from your employer or take the employer to court.

Avoid working "under the table.”

Working under the table can hurt your chances to get many benefits and services, such as:

  • Bank loans, college loans, mortgages, and credit cards
  • Health insurance when you are unemployed
  • Social security retirement and disability benefits
  • Sponsorship of family immigration
  • Unemployment benefits
  • Workers’ compensation

Your employer must report your wages to the IRS, deduct your income taxes from your gross pay, and pay employer taxes. You must file your own income tax return with the IRS each year. Your filed tax return is legal proof of your income.

You can try to ask your employer to report your full income and to deduct your taxes. You can also file your own wage record with the IRS by calling 1-800-829-1040 to ask for a "substitute W-2" form.

Know where to go for help.

If you think you have been discriminated against at work, contact the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD).

  • Call (617) 994-6000, or
  • File a discrimination complaint.

If you think you are not being paid correctly or are being treated differently at work because you are protecting your rights, contact:

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Massachusetts Attorney General's Fair Labor Division

U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division


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