If you haven’t been paid properly for your work, you may be entitled not only to your unpaid wages, but also to penalties intended to punish your employer for wage violations. Federal and Alaska law regulate when and how much employees must be paid. This article explains how to calculate what you are owed, what penalties may be available, and how to make a claim against your employer.
Employees must be paid the highest applicable minimum wage where they work, whether that’s the federal, state, or local rate. Alaska's minimum wage is higher than the federal minimum wage. (The state minimum wage is adjusted each year for inflation; see our article on Alaska wage and hour laws for the current rate.) If your local government has enacted a higher minimum wage, you are entitled to that amount.
To calculate your unpaid minimum wage claim, 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 a dollar less than the minimum wage for 80 hours of work, you are entitled to $80 for that pay period.
In some states, employers are allowed to pay tipped employees a lower hourly wage, as long as they earn enough in tips to make up the difference (called a “tip credit”). However, Alaska does not allow a tip credit. If you receive tips as part of your compensation, you are still entitled to be paid the full state minimum wage per hour. For more information, see Alaska Laws for Tipped Employees.
Failing to pay employees properly for overtime work is one of the most common wage violations by employers. In Alaska, employees are entitled to overtime if they work more than eight hours in a day or more than 40 hours in a workweek.
Not all employees are entitled to earn overtime, 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 $10 an hour, you should be paid $15 an hour for overtime work.
Example: June earns $12 an hour. She worked ten hours each on Monday and Tuesday, and she worked eight hours each on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Because she worked 44 hours in the week, she is entitled to overtime pay – $18 rather than $12 – for four hours of work. June is entitled to $72 in overtime pay, on top of the 40 hours of work at her regular rate of pay.
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:
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 above eight in a day or 40 in a workweek.
Alaska law gives employees the right to seek penalties, on top of the wages they are owed, if their employers fail to pay them properly and on time. Here are some of the penalties that might be available under Alaska law (additional penalties may be available):
If your employer failed to pay you all of the wages you earned, you can either file a wage claim with the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development or file a lawsuit in court. The Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development has posted its wage claim form online.
If you aren’t comfortable filing a claim on your own behalf, or you have a large or complex wage claim, talk to an experienced Alaska wage and hour lawyer about representing you. A lawyer can file a wage claim on your behalf 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 Alaska, you have only two years from the minimum wage or overtime violation to file your claim or lawsuit. If you are claiming straight-time wages (for example, you weren’t paid the amount you were promised per hour) or other benefits, you have three years to file your claim or lawsuit. 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.