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 Arkansas law regulate when and how much employees must be paid. This article explains how to calculate your unpaid wages, what penalties may be available, and how to make a claim against your employer.
Employees must be paid at least the minimum wage for each hour they work. You are entitled to the highest applicable minimum wage where you work, whether that’s the federal, state, or local rate. In Arkansas, the minimum wage is $8.50 per hour. Arkansas employees are entitled to the state minimum wage because it is higher than the federal minimum wage of $7.25. However, 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 from 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 continued to pay you $8 for your first three weeks of full-time work in 2017 (when the minimum wage increases to $8.50), you would be entitled to an extra 50 cents an hour. At 40 hours a week for three weeks, you would be entitled to 50 cents times 120 hours, or $60.
If you receive tips at your job, your employer can pay you a lower hourly wage, as long as you earn enough in tips to bring your pay up to the state minimum wage. Arkansas employers can pay tipped employees as little as $2.63 an hour. However, if the employee’s tips aren’t sufficient to bring his or her pay up to the state minimum wage, the employer must make up the difference. For more information, see Arkansas Laws for Tipped Employees.
Failing to pay employees properly for overtime work is one of the most common wage violations by employers. In Arkansas, 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 other 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 $12 an hour, you should be paid $18 an hour for overtime work.
Example: Carlos earns $9 an hour and works 40 hours a week. To meet a deadline, he has to work two extra hours on Monday, three extra hours on Tuesday, and two extra hours on Wednesday. He is entitled to overtime pay of $13.50 an hour for those seven hours, for a total of $94.50.
Federal and Arkansas law don’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 40 in a workweek.
In Arkansas, employees have the right to collect certain penalties if their employers fail to pay them properly and on time. Here are some of the penalties that might be available under Arkansas law (other penalties may be available under state or local law):
If your employer failed to pay you all of the wages you earned, you may be able to file a wage claim with the Arkansas Department of Labor. The Arkansas Department of Labor has posted its wage claim form online. To file a wage claim, you must make $50,000 or less per year, and your wage claim must be for $2,000 or less. If you’re eligible, you can either file a wage claim or file a lawsuit in court. If you’re not eligible , your only option is to file a lawsuit.
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 Arkansas 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.
You should be aware that there are time limits for filing your claim or lawsuit. In Arkansas, you have three years to file a claim or a lawsuit for unpaid wages or overtime. For violations of federal law, you have two years to file (or three years, if your employer's violations were willful). 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. Either way, it’s usually in your best interests to pursue your case as soon as possible, so that you don’t lose access to key witnesses and evidence that will support your claims.