What's Your Unpaid Wage Claim Worth in Alabama?

Learn how to calculate what you're owed in unpaid wages and penalties in Alabama.

If your employer has failed to pay you properly or in a timely fashion, you may be entitled to recover not only your unpaid wages, but also penalties intended to punish your employer for wage violations. Unlike many other states, Alabama has not passed its own wage and hours laws, regulating when and how much you must be paid. However, Alabama employers must comply with the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which establishes minimum wage and overtime rules for employers in all states.

Minimum Wage Violations

Employees must be paid at least the minimum wage for each hour they work. You are entitled to be paid the highest applicable minimum wage where you work, whether that’s the federal, state, or local rate. Because Alabama has no minimum wage law, the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour applies, unless your city or county government has set a higher minimum wage.

To calculate your unpaid minimum wage claim, simply take the difference between what you were actually paid per hour and what you should have been paid per hour, and then multiply that amount by the total number of hours you worked. For example, if your employer paid you $5 an hour during your first two weeks of full-time work, you would be entitled to an additional $2.25 an hour for each of your 80 hours of work, for a total of $180.

If you receive tips at your job, your employer can pay you an hourly wage of $2.23 – as long as you earn enough in tips to bring your pay up to at least the minimum wage. To learn more, see Alabama Laws for Tipped Employees.

Unpaid Overtime

Failing to pay employees properly for overtime work is one of the most common wage violations by employers. In Alabama, employees are entitled to overtime if they work more than 40 hours in a workweek.

Not all employees are entitled to earn overtime for extra hours, however. While hourly, nonexempt employees have a right to overtime, other categories of employees are exempt. The most common exemptions are for outside salespeople and “white-collar” employees who do professional, managerial, and high-level administrative work (see our overtime page for more details and exemption categories). Unless your employer can prove that you fit into one of these narrow exemptions, you are entitled to overtime.

If your employer has failed to pay you for overtime hours, you are owed the difference between what you should have been paid and what you were paid. For overtime hours, employees are entitled to time-and-a-half. In other words, you’re owed an extra 50% of your hourly rate, on top of your regular pay. For example, if you are usually paid $9 an hour, you should be paid $13.50 an hour for overtime work.

Example: Karen earns $10 an hour. She works her usual eight-hour shift on Monday and Tuesday. On Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, she works ten hours per day to meet a deadline. Because Karen worked 46 hours in the week, she is entitled to overtime pay – $15 an hour – for six hours, for a total of $90 (in addition to 40 hours at her regular rate).

Unpaid Breaks and Time Off

Federal law doesn’t give employees the right to take meal or rest breaks during the workday. However, if your employer chooses to let you take breaks, you may be entitled to pay for that time. You are entitled to be paid your regular wages for:

  • any short breaks (lasting 20 minutes or less) during the workday, and
  • any time during which you must work, even if your employer calls it a break. For example, if an office receptionist must eat lunch at his desk in order to cover the phones and accept deliveries, he is entitled to be paid for that time – even if his employer calls it a “lunch break.”

To calculate your unpaid break wages, add up how much time you spent on shorter breaks that should have been paid or breaks that you had to work through. Multiply this extra time by your hourly rate. And don’t forget overtime: Breaks for which you should have been paid count as hours worked, which means they may push your total hours for the week above 40 per workweek.

Penalties for Unpaid Wages

In addition to paying your unpaid wages, Alabama employers can also be required to pay liquidated damages. Liquidated damages are intended to compensate you for other financial losses that are difficult to measure, such as fees you may have had to pay for bounced checks, late charges, and so on.

An employee who wins in court or an administrative hearing can be awarded liquidated damages in an amount equal to his or her unpaid wages. For example, if your employer failed to pay you $1,500 in overtime, you can be awarded an additional $1,500 in liquidated damages, for a total recovery of $3,000. Additional penalties may be available under state or local law.

Filing a Wage Claim or Lawsuit

If your employer failed to pay you all of the wages you earned, you can either file a complaint with the Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor or file a lawsuit. Alabama doesn’t have its own state enforcement process, because it has no wage and hour laws.

The Wage and Hour Division may investigate your complaint. If it finds that your employer has violated the law, it can supervise the payment of any wages you are owed, settle your claim with the employer, or file a lawsuit on your behalf (this is very rare).

If you aren’t comfortable filing a complaint or lawsuit on your own behalf, or you have a large or complex wage claim, talk to an experienced Alabama wage and hour lawyer about representing you. A lawyer can file a wage claim on your behalf with the Alabama Department of Labor or file a lawsuit in court. If you win, your attorney can ask the judge to make your employer pay your attorneys’ fees.

Whether you plan to file a wage claim or hire an attorney to represent you, you should move quickly. In Alabama, as in all other states, you have two years from the date of the violation (or the date you learn of the violation) to sue or file an administrative claim for unpaid wages in violation of the FLSA. If your employer violated the law willfully, you have three years to file a claim or lawsuit for your wages. An attorney can also tell you if you have any other claims, such as a breach of contract claim, to which different time limits typically apply.

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