I have been underpaid - what are my rights?

emily gordon brown
Emily Gordon BrownLegal Assessment Specialist @ Lawhive
Updated on 25th October 2023

Imagine this: you sit at your desk, payslip in hand, frustrated because you've been underpaid again.

This situation is, unfortunately, not as rare as you might think. But we understand how frustrating and disheartening this can be.

The good news is that you do have rights as an employee if you are underpaid. All it takes is to know what they are to understand what your next steps should be.

i-have-been-underpaid-what-are-my-rights

With that, in this article, we will look at:

  • Your rights an employee in regards to pay;

  • The right action to take if you believe that your wages are not what they should be;

  • How to raise a formal complaint internally to bringing a case against an employer for any unjust consequences as a result of being underpaid;

  • Who might be able to help if you've been underpaid.

Unlawful deduction of wages: your rights

Employers must adhere to any contractual agreements concerning pay, including agreed bonuses, commissions, or overtime pay.

Here’s a breakdown of when an employer can make deductions from pay:

  • Statutory Deductions: Employers can lawfully make deductions for statutory reasons, such as income tax, national insurance contributions, or court-ordered payments like child maintenance.

  • Contractual Agreements: If a deduction is specified in the employment contract and the employee has agreed to it, it is typically considered lawful. This might include deductions for pension contributions or health insurance premiums.

However, deductions may be seen as unlawful in the following scenarios:

  • Unlawful Deductions: Deductions made without the employee's explicit and informed consent, or those that go against statutory employment rights, are generally considered illegal.

  • Overuse of Deductions: Employers should avoid habitually making deductions for minor issues or using them as a punitive measure for matters such as poor performance or mistakes.

What to do if you have been underpaid

The Employment Rights Act 1996 protects employees against unlawful deductions to their wages. So, if you have been underpaid there are things you can do to flag this to your employer in the first instance and, in some cases, take legal action against them.

It's important to note, however, that you may not be able to take formal action against an employer for one instance of underpaid wages. Rather, employees who have been repeatedly underpaid have the strongest case when it comes to taking an employer to a tribunal.

*That being said, you should let your employer know if you have been underpaid even once, to give them the chance to put it right and pay you what you are owed. *

So, what should you do if you've been underpaid? Let's break it down:

Check how much you are owed

Before taking any action, you should work out how much you are owed. That way, you have all the information to hand.

You can find out how much you have been paid on your payslip, and your contract of employment should set out how much you are to be paid and when.

Cross reference this and work out the difference, so you know how much you have been underpaid.

Talk to your employer

First you should have an open conversation with your employer to discuss the situation and find a possible resolution. It could be the underpayment of wages was due to an admin error or even a lawful deduction.

Simply asking the question might clear the matter up quickly and, if there has been an error, your employer should take steps to pay you what you are owed as soon as possible.

Put the problem in writing

If this approach doesn't work, you should then put your concerns in writing. This way, you'll have a clear record of your complaint, allowing for better understanding and resolution.

It's a good idea to include supporting evidence to show the underpayment (like copies of your payslip) and detail how much you think you have been underpaid.

Always keep a copy of any letters or emails to your employer for your records, as you might need it later.

Raise a formal grievance

If after raising the matter informally and putting the problem in writing you are no closer to a resolution, you are within your rights to raise a grievance.

How to raise a grievance with your employer should be detailed in their policies and procedures.

It might also be helpful to seek support from a trade union rep, if you have one, or contact Acas.

Make a claim to an employment tribunal

If your issue with underpayment of wages remains unsolved, you may be able to make a claim to an employment tribunal.

Before you do this, however, it might be helpful to get advice from an employment solicitor who can assess the strength of your case and advise on your next steps. In some cases they can also provide representation at an employment tribunal if you need it.

In the event that you do decide to move forwards in this way, you have to tell Acas you want to make a claim. When you do this, you'll be offered the option of early conciliation, which may be helpful in settling your case before it reaches a tribunal.

Time limits on making a claim for unpaid wages

It's important to note that if you were underpaid, you have 3 months minus 1 day from the last time it happened to claim it back, and you can claim up to 2 years back as long as there's less than 3 month between each underpayment.

If you have been underpaid and you want to know your rights about taking your employer to a tribunal or making a legal claim, tell us about your case to receive a fixed-fee quote from one of our expert employment solicitors and start the process of getting back what you’re owed today.

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