Wage Recovery and Wage Theft
A guide for recovering pay you're owed in Virginia

Use this guide to collect wages you're owed.

If your employer has not paid you fully, you have many options to collect lost wages.

This can be for collecting the last paycheck, or money that your employer may be keeping from you.

You may call this problem 'wage theft'. This guide can help you understand your rights and options.

If You Need More Help

Contact your local Virginia legal aid group by calling 1-866-534-5243.

You can also look up your local legal aid group online.

Lawyers can help you understand your options and next steps for your specific situation. Legal aid lawyers provide free help to people who qualify.

Step-by-Step Guide

Follow the legal process for wage recovery & wage theft problems in Virginia.

More Resources

Find more resources to help you with wage theft.

Steps to Collect Wages
For people in Virginia

Step 1:

Choose which option to use to recover wages


In Virginia, there are 3 main methods of collecting wages that you are owed:

  1. Through the U.S. Department of Labor
  2. Through the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry
  3. Through a lawsuit in the Virginia district courts

Read through each of these 3 options to see which one may best fit you.

1. U.S. Department of Labor

You can file a complaint with the Dept. of Labor. They may help you get the wages.

If you are owed a last paycheck and nothing else, going through the Dept. of Labor is often the easiest option.

2. Virginia Dept. of Labor & Industry

In Virginia, you can contact the Dept. of Labor and Industry. They may be able to help you get your wages.

3. File a lawsuit in court

You could file a lawsuit against your past employer in the Virginia District Courts, or the Small Claims Division of your local court. If you win, you can try to collect your wages.

Option 1: US Dept of Labor
Steps to recover wages

If you are simply owed a last paycheck and nothing else, the easiest way is to go through the federal government's U.S. Department of Labor (DOL).

If you have questions about whether the DOL can help you recover wages, you can read their FAQ page, which provides more details.

Steps in Option 1:

File a Complaint with the US Department of Labor


If you would like to file a claim with the United States Department of Labor (DOL), follow these steps:

  1. Contact the Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. DOL and file an agency complaint. You can start at this DOL website: https://www.dol.gov/whd/howtofilecomplaint.htm. Or you can call the DOL at 1-866-487-9243, between Monday and Friday 8am-8pm Eastern time.
  2. Have some key information ready. This will help you provide important details to the people you speak with at the DOL:
  3. Your name
  4. Your address and phone number
  5. The name of the company where you work or worked
  6. Location of the company
  7. Phone number of the company •
  8. Manager or owner's name (who should we ask to speak to?)
  9. Type of work you did
  10. How and when you were paid (for example, by cash, direct deposit, or check, and on every Friday)
  11. File a Complaint with the DOL. When you contact the DOL to file a complaint, a DOL investigator usually will obtain permission to use your name and collect information on your owed wages. They will gather your information to bring a complaint. This is free.
  12. Investigation begins. After you give your information to the DOL, the investigator will begin their work to determine if you are owed wages, and how to get them back to you.
  13. If the situation only concerns you and no other employees and is subject to the laws enforced by DOL, the investigator will normally call the employer and attempt to get the employer to release the check to you.  
  14. If your situation involves a violation that affects many employees, then the company will be set up for an investigation to ensure the employer’s compliance with the laws that the Wage and Hour Division enforces and payment of any back wages owed to employees. 
  15. The Investigation Proceeds with Employer. The DOL investigator will gather more information from the employer, including records, site visits, or further interviews. You can read more about DOL's investigation of employers here on their website.
  16. The DOL comes to its conclusion. The DOL will decide what steps to take with the employer, and if and how it can help you recover wages. They will be in touch with you about next steps.
  17. If the DOL cannot help you, you still have options. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) law, has a private right of action, which allows you to sue your employer on your own. This is under the section 16(b) of the FLSA law, or 29 U.S.C. § 216(b)). This means you can sue your employer to recover your missing pay in any court of competent jurisdiction. This may be a state court or federal court. Talk to a lawyer to get more information on this option.

Option 2: Virginia Dept. of Labor & Industry
Steps to recover wages

If your wages owed are in Virginia, then you can contact the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry (DOLI) to file a complaint with them.

You can file a complaint that your employer hasn't paid you the wages they promised, or that they don't pay the required minimum wage.

Then DOLI will review your complaint and will decide if they will help you make the employer pay you the wages owed.

Steps in Option 2:

File a complaint with Virginia DOLI and go through its process


If you would like to file a claim with the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry (DOLI), follow these steps:

  1. Contact DOLI to file a complaint. You can find the PDF for the Claim for Unpaid Wages on DOLI's website https://www.doli.virginia.gov/labor-law/payment-of-wage-english/.  Or you can call DOLI at 804-371-2327.
  2. Complete, Sign, and Mail the complaint. It is a 2-page form, that you will have to complete and print. Check with a lawyer if you have questions about how to fill it in. You should also add copies of proof to support your claim, like pay stubs, receipts, or other evidence.
  3. Mail the Complaint to DOLI at 600 E Main St #207, Richmond, VA 23219
  4. Or, call DOLI for more information at (804) 371-2327
  5. DOLI will decide whether to accept your complaint. If it is not complete, or if it does not fit the law, then DOLI might reject your complaint. If they accept your complaint, it doesn't guarantee you'll get your wages back. Acceptance means your complaint will move to the next step.
  6. DOLI will investigate and decide your claim. They may talk to you, and to your employer. They will look at the proof, listen to what people say, and then decide if the employer owes you wages and how much.
  7. There might be an administrative hearing, if the employer requests it. DOLI lets the employer (but not you) request to have a hearing called an Informal Factfinding Conference. Often these are held on the phone. You and the employer can present evidence and arguments, and you can bring an attorney. A DOLI officer will use the hearing to help decide if the employer owes you wages and how much.
  8. If DOLI finds your employer owes you wages, they have 18 days to pay you. Your employer is supposed to pay the wage amount that DOLI says within 18 days to you.
  9. If the employer doesn't pay, the case can move to court. DOLI might file an order with the Virginia Circuit Court, to try to collect the wages through the court system. A lawyer can help you more with this process.
Option 3: Local Virginia Court
Steps to recover wages

You can bring your employer to court to get an order for the wages they owe you.

You could go to your local Virginia District Court, or to your local Small Claims Division of your court.

Steps in Option 3:

File a Lawsuit in your local Virginia court


If you would like to file a lawsuit to have the courts order your employer to pay you wages they owe, follow these steps.

  1. Choose whether to file a lawsuit in a District Court or a Small Claims court. The only difference in the process will be about lawyers. In Small Claims court, you can't have a lawyer. Your employer also can't have a lawyer. In District Court, lawyers are allowed.
  2. Start the lawsuit by filing a Warrant in Debt. You can get a copy of this document from your court clerk. You will also file this completed document with the clerk.
  3. Have your employer (the defendant) served with the court paperwork. Be sure to follow the legal rules around proper service. Most often, you can hire a 'process server' to give them the papers correctly.
  4. The court will schedule a first hearing. Be sure to attend this hearing. If you don't, the case may be dismissed. If the employer (the defendant) comes to the hearing and argues against your claim, then the court will schedule a second court date.
  5. The second court date will be a trial. Make sure you bring all your evidence. This could be proof of hours you worked, communication from your employer about how much you should have been paid, paystubs, or other things.
  6. The judge will make a decision. They may decide that the employer owes you money, and how much. Or they may decide that the employer doesn't owe you anything.
  7. The court may issue an order for the landlord to pay. You can try to use this order to collect money. See this guide about how to collect money after a court case.

Get More Help

with your legal situation

Find a Private Lawyer: To connect with a private lawyer, call Virginia Lawyer Referral Service at 1-800-552-7977 or go to their website at https://vlrs.community.lawyer/. Some lawyers charge $35.00 for an initial interview. 

Contact Legal Aid: You can call the Virginia Legal Aid Hotline 1-866-LEGLAID (1-866-534-5243). This will help you find your local free legal aid group.

If you are in Northern Virginia, seek help from the legal aid group Legal Services of Northern Virginia, visit https://www.lsnv.org or call (703) 778-6800.

If you are not in Northern Virginia, or need to find other groups, you can find a list of Virginia legal aid and help groups here, for more legal and financial assistance.

The information on this page is not legal advice.

Legal advice is dependent upon the specific circumstances of a person's situation. The information on this page cannot replace the advice of competent, local legal counsel.

Before taking action based on the information on this site, first check for up-to-date information with your local court system, and seek the advice of licensed local attorneys in Virginia (or your state).

This platform is not a substitute for qualified legal advice.

Please contact a lawyer in Virginia to help you with your specific situation. You can find a private lawyer by calling 1-800-552-7977 or find a local legal aid group by calling 1-866-LEGLAID (1-866-534-5243).

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