What's Your Unpaid Wage Claim Worth in Arizona?

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

In Arizona, federal and state law determine when and how much employees must be paid. If your employer has not paid 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. This article explains how to calculate your unpaid wages, which penalties are available, and how to claim what you are owed.

Minimum Wage Violations

Employees are entitled to be paid the highest minimum wage that applies where they work, whether that’s the federal, state, or local rate. Arizona's minimum wage is significantly higher than the federal minimum of $7.25. If your local government has enacted a higher minimum wage, you are entitled to that rate.

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 $2 less than the state minimum wage for 80 hours of work, you would be entitled to $160 for that pay period.

If you receive tips at your job, your employer can pay you a lower hourly wage, as long as you make enough in tips to bring your hourly earnings up to the state minimum wage. To learn more, see Arizona Laws for Tipped Employees.

Unpaid Overtime

Failing to pay the overtime premium is one of the most common wage violations by employers. While Arizona doesn’t have its own overtime law, the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) still applies. Under the FLSA, employees are entitled to overtime if they work 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 receive 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 $14 an hour, you should be paid $21 an hour for overtime work.

Example: Raj usually works 40 hours a week, Monday through Friday, earning $16 an hour. For a couple of weeks, he has to work an extra hour each day to fill in for a coworker on vacation. Raj is entitled to $24 for each of those ten extra hours, or $240 (in addition to 40 hours of pay at his regular rate).

Unpaid Breaks and Time Off

Neither Arizona nor federal law gives 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

Federal and state law give employees the right to collect penalties if they win their administrative claims or lawsuits. Below are some common penalties; additional penalties may be available under state or local law.

Arizona law gives employees the right to treble damages. In addition to the wages you should have been paid under state law, you can be awarded twice the amount of your unpaid wages as a penalty. In effect, you could receive an award of three times your unpaid wages.

If your employer retaliates against you for trying to enforce your rights under the wage laws, you can be awarded not less than $150 a day for each day the violation occurred or until a legal judgment against your employer is final.

In addition, federal law gives employees the right to collect liquidated damages for violations of the minimum wage and overtime laws. If your employer has failed to pay you overtime, you can ask for liquidated damages in an amount equal to the wages you should have been paid. In effect, this means you may be awarded twice the amount of wages your employer failed to pay you. (If you are claiming minimum wage violations under both state and federal law, you won’t be able to collect both treble damages and double damages. However, because failing to pay overtime is a violation of federal law only, you can be awarded liquidated damages under federal law for an overtime claim.)

Filing a Wage Claim or Lawsuit

If your employer failed to pay you all of the wages you earned, you may be able to file a wage complaint with the Arizona Labor Department (the Department has posted its wage claim form online.) To file a wage complaint, your total claim must be $5,000 or less. If your claim is worth more than $5,000, your only option is to file a lawsuit.

If you aren’t comfortable filing your own complaint, or you have a large or complicated wage claim, talk to an experienced Arizona 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 Arizona, you have only one year from the date you should have been paid to file your administrative complaint. If you want to sue in court for violations of state or federal law, you must do so within two years of the violation (or three years, if your employer violated the law willfully). 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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