Nebraska Revised Statute §§ 48-1228 to 48-1234 constitute the Nebraska Wage Payment and Collection Act. The Act applies to employees and a broad range of employers, including the state or any individual or entity that employs anyone in Nebraska as an employee. It defines wages as compensation for labor or services, including fringe benefits, when previously agreed to and conditions stipulated have been met by the employee, whether such wages are on a time, task, fee, commission, or other basis. Wages include earned but unused vacation leave. And wages include commissions on all orders delivered or on file with the employer at the time of an employee’s separation, unless the employer and employee agreed otherwise in an employment contract.
Fringe benefits include sick and vacation leave plans, disability income protection plans, retirement, pension or profit-sharing plans, health and accident benefit plans, and any other employee benefit plans or benefit programs regardless of whether the employee participates in such plans or programs.
The substance of the Act is its requirement that an employer designate and timely pay employees on regular paydays, and that an employer must pay a terminated employee all unpaid wages on the next regular payday or within two weeks of termination, whichever is sooner. See § 48-1230. If the wages consist of commissions, the employer must pay the employee any earned commissions on the next regular payday following receipt of payment for the goods or services on which the commissions were based. See § 48-1230.01.
The enforcement mechanism in the Act is it authorization of employee lawsuits for unpaid wages in § 48-1231. As an incentive to bring wage claims, which may consist of only a couple of week’s wages in some instances, the Nebraska Legislature has authorized awards of attorney’s fees to employees who prevail in court. If the employee prevails and he or she has employed an attorney to do so, the must award attorney’s fees in an amount not less than 25% of the unpaid wages. Courts can award more if they determine a higher fee is justified; 25% is the minimum required by the statute. In addition, if the case is appealed, and the employee wins on appeal, the employee can recover a 25% attorney’s fee for the appeal, as well. An employee cannot recover fees if the employer had tendered the unpaid wages within thirty days of the regular payday when they were due.
If the employee prevails in the lawsuit, damages are equal to the wages owed. If nonpayment of wages is found to have been willful, then an employer may be held liable for twice the amount of unpaid wages (though the employee only recovers the amount of wages and the "doubled" amount is remitted to the Nebraska State Treasurer because it amounts to punitive damages, which may not be retained by private parties under the Nebraska constitution).
The potential for the "double" damages and attorney’s fees can transform a wage claim seeking a couple weeks of unpaid wages into a much larger liability for employers who do not tread carefully.
Whether you are an employee who is owed wages by his or her employer, or an employer dealing with wage issues, attorneys at Erickson | Sederstrom can assist you. Attorneys Bonnie Boryca or Paul Heimann can be reached (402) 397-2200.