Wage Theft in South Carolina: Unpaid Wages and the SC Wage Payment Act
If your employer has failed to pay you what you have rightfully earned, what are your legal options?
What Qualifies as Wages in South Carolina?The South Carolina Wage Payment Act defines wages as "all amounts at which labor rendered is recompensed," which includes "vacation, holiday, and sick leave payments which are due to an employee under any employer policy or employment contract." The most common example we see is also the most basic: an unpaid weekly paycheck. The employee worked their regular hours, yet the employer failed to make payroll. Another common example is unpaid commissions, which employers often try to avoid paying if the employee was terminated or quit before getting paid those commissions. Accrued vacation or sick time, if provided for under the employer's policy or the employment contract, are also wages and subject to the Wage Payment Act.
What are Your Options if the Employer Fails to Pay You?One option for an employee who is a victim of wage theft is file a complaint with the SC Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulations (LLR). However, the LLR does not have the authority to bring a lawsuit on the employee's behalf and is instead limited to fining the employer for any violations that the LLR determines took place. The best option for an employee is to file a private lawsuit under the Wage Payment Act in a South Carolina court. If the value of the claim is less than $7,500, the employee can file in small claims court (called magistrate's court in SC). If it's more than $7,500, the employee can sue in the court of common pleas (also called circuit court).
What are Your Legal Remedies for Wage Theft?The Wage Payment Act provides relief for unpaid wages. If you are successful at trial, the judge has the discretion to award the employee triple damages (3x the amount of unpaid wages). The judge can also award attorneys' fees and costs to the employee.
Note: the Wage Payment Act Only Applies to "Employees," Not Independent ContractorsThe law only applies to "employees" of the employer, not to independent contractors. The test to determine whether a person is an employee or an independent contractor is fact specific analysis that will depend on a great many details. You should schedule a consult with a local employment lawyer to make this determination. However, just because a person is an independent contractor does not mean that the employer can legally refuse to pay them. It just means that the independent contractor has to sue for a breach of contract, which does not allow for triple damages.