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Defending Your Rights

Produced by Julius Halstead, Greater Boston Legal Services
Reviewed February 2019

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 obeying 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 your checks.

If you get paid in cash, keep a notebook. Write down the dates and hours that you worked and the dates and amounts that you were paid. You can make a chart to keep track of this information.

Date worked

Hours worked

Amount paid

Date paid

Notes to self

























28.25 hours in the week beginning 4/29

























43 hours in the week beginning 5/6 (3 hours overtime)


Take action to enforce your rights

If your employer does not pay you in full and on time, take action quickly. You will have a much better chance of success.

If possible:

Do not act alone

Try to get together with co-workers, so that your employer cannot single out one worker. Getting together in a group will show strength and support for your issue. Also, the National Labor Relations Act may protect your group from retaliation, pursuant to Section 7.

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.”

File a complaint with the state 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, 617-727-3465. The Office of the Attorney General can ask for payment from your employer or take the employer to court.

Organize your community

You can organize with co-workers, 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.

Organize a union

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

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 for the 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.

Where to go for help

If you think you have been discriminated against at work, contact The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD), (617) 994-6000.

If you think you are treated differently at work because you are protecting your rights, contact

Find Legal Aid

You may be able to get free legal help from your local legal aid program. Or email a question about your own legal problem to a lawyer.

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