There are going to be changes to Maine’s wage and hour laws in 2017. Starting on January 7, 2017, the minimum wage in Maine will rise to $9 per hour and it will rise each year until it reaches $12 per hour in 2020. (The wages for tipped employees are also going up and will continue to rise until 2020.) The minimum salary necessary for employees to be exempt from overtime pay requirements is also going to rise to $519.24 per week and will also continue to rise until 2020. Your employer is required to display new posters in the workplace that reflect these changes.
To avoid paying these increased wages, more employers may be tempted to game the system by, for instance, misclassifying employees as exempt salaried employees or independent contractors. By misclassifying employees as exempt, employers can avoid paying them overtime; and by misclassifying them as independent contractors, employers can avoid paying them overtime pay and minimum wage. Misclassification is a diplomatic term for “wage theft.” Gaming the system this way enables employers to pocket money that employees have earned and should legally receive.
To protect yourself, don’t just accept your employer’s classification at face value. Just because you receive a salary, instead of hourly pay, does not mean that you are exempt from overtime pay when you work over 40 hours per week. Similarly, just because your employer says that you are an independent contractor does not mean you are.
You should not just rely on the Maine Department of Labor to protect you. Governor LePage has specifically instructed the Maine Department of Labor not to enforce portions of the new minimum wage and overtime requirements during the month of January. Given his hostility to these new laws, there is a good chance that you will not obtain much assistance after January either. Instead, you should contact an experienced employment lawyer for assistance if you believe your employer is not paying what you are owed.
If a lawyer proves that your employer failed to pay you overtime or the minimum wage, the employer will have to reimburse you for lawyer fees. The employer may also have to pay money in addition to your lost wages to compensate you for the hardship you experienced due to the employer’s wage theft.