Small Claims Court

Last Thursday a Workers’ Center client, Arthur Whitman, and I went to Small Claims Court in an effort to retrieve unpaid wages. Luckily for Arthur, his suit against City Health Club, 402 West Green Street in Ithaca, was successful: City Health’s owner agreed to pay Arthur the $2,301.04 owed him.

Here’s what we usually suggest when an employee or former employee has not been paid:

  • First of all, communication is best. Have you spoken to your boss or supervisor, accounting or human resources departments, if applicable?
  • If  that is not an option or hasn’t successfully resolved the problem, we at the Workers’ Center are willing to make a call for you. Frequently, we are able to mediate a dispute between worker and employee.
  • If communication has not worked, the next step in the process (if the amount owed is under $5000) is to file either a Small Claims case or a Department of Labor claim for unpaid wages. Lately, we’ve been leaning towards Small Claims as the easiest and quickest route. The Departments of Labor, both state and federal, have been severely cut over the years; there just aren’t enough investigators to handle all the complaints filed. Hence, the Small Claims court option.

What we hope to accomplish by taking a case to Small Claims is not just resolution of the problem at hand but also a message to other unpaid employees that they do have options available to them. Too many times, employees who have not received their pay write them off as a hard lesson learned. Your wages are yours: it is illegal to make a person work without compensation.