This blog had previously discussed the Oklahoma and national minimum wages, and what steps an employee who believes he or she has been paid less than what is legally required needs to take to hold the employer responsible. But what penalties does the employer face if it is found, in fact, to have violated wage laws?
The answer depends upon in which forum the enforcement action has taken place. If the enforcement action is being taken through the administrative process of the Oklahoma Department of Labor, and the commissioner's office had found the employer in violation, then the employee will be owed the shortfall of what he or she should have been paid, plus 10 percent of that amount as a penalty to the employer. If this is paid by the employer, and the employee accepts it, the employer will no longer be liable for further action regarding the same violation.
If the employer is sued in a court of competent jurisdiction for wage and hour claims, and the court finds that the employer violated the law, it will be required to pay the employee double the amount of the wages that should have been paid, with whatever was actually paid subtracted from such an award. Further, an employer may also be responsible for court costs and reasonable attorney's fees of not less than $100 to cover the expense of the suit. It is important to note that, even if the employer and employee originally agreed to a sub-minimum wage payment, the employer can still be held liable as such agreements are not enforceable in Oklahoma.
Finally, an employer or the officer of a corporation that pays or agrees to pay less than the legal minimum wage could end up being charged criminally. If convicted, that person or persons would face a fine of up to $500 or detention in a county jail for up to six months, or both. Such a conviction would be considered a misdemeanor.
As you can see, the consequences of attempting to avoid paying minimum wage in Oklahoma can be severe. If you believe you have been employed for less than the legal minimum, or you are an employer with questions regarding how to ensure you do not run afoul of the law, you may wish to consider contacting an experienced employment attorney.