What's Your Unpaid Wage Claim Worth in Florida?

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

In Florida, federal and state law determine when and how much employees must be paid. 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. This article explains how to calculate and claim the money you are owed.

Unpaid Wages

Employees must be paid the highest minimum wage that applies where they work, whether that’s the federal, state, or local rate. The minimum wage in Florida is currently $8.25 an hour. Because Florida’s minimum wage is higher than the federal minimum wage ($7.25), you are entitled to receive the state minimum wage. If the city or county where you work has 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 $2 less than the minimum wage for 120 hours of work, you are entitled to $240.

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 total hourly earnings to at least the state minimum wage. In Florida, employers may pay tipped employees as little as $5.23 per hour (as of 2018). However, if an employee doesn’t earn enough in tips to earn at least the state minimum wage, the employer must pay the difference. To learn more on these rules, see Florida Laws for Tipped Employees.

Unpaid Overtime

Failing to pay the overtime premium is one of the most common wage violations by employers. Florida does not have its own overtime law. However, Florida employers are still subject to the federal overtime standard, which means they must pay eligible employees overtime when they work over 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, your unpaid wages are 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. This means that 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: Janet works 40 hours a week at a credit card call center; she earns $15 an hour. If she works four extra hours during the week, she is entitled to her usual $15 an hour for the first 40 hours ($600), plus $22.50—one-and-a-half times her regular rate—for four overtime hours ($90), for a total of $690.

Unpaid Breaks and Time Off

Neither federal law nor Florida law requires employers to let employees take meal or rest breaks during the workday. However, under federal law, if your employer chooses to give you time off during the day, you must be paid 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 her desk in order to cover the phones and accept deliveries, she is entitled to be paid for that time – even if her 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 in addition to the wages they should have been paid, if they win their administrative claims or lawsuits. Some of these penalties are described below; additional penalties may be available under state or local law.

In Florida, you can be awarded liquidated damages if your employer violates the state minimum wage law. These damages are equal to your unpaid wages award. In other words, if your employer owes you $600 in unpaid minimum wages, you are entitled to an additional $600 in liquidated damages. To claim liquidated damages, you must tell your employer in writing that you plan to sue. You must also include the minimum wage you should have been paid, the approximate days and hours for which you are seeking payment, and the total amount you claim the employer owes you. Your employer then has 15 calendar days to resolve your claim. If your employer fails to act, you can sue and request liquidated damages.

If your employer fails to pay you overtime, you are entitled to liquidated damages under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). An employee who wins an overtime case in court 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 would be entitled to an additional $1,500 in liquidated damages, or $3,000 total.

Filing a Lawsuit

If your employer failed to pay you all of the wages you are owed, you can file a lawsuit in court. Unlike most states, Florida does not have a state agency that receives employee complaints and enforces state wage and hour laws. If you want to enforce your wage and hour rights, you may either file a complaint with the federal Department of Labor or file a lawsuit.

If you plan to move forward with a lawsuit or complaint with the federal Department of Labor, talk to an experienced Florida wage and hour lawyer about representing you. A lawyer can file a wage claim for you or file a lawsuit in court. If you win, your attorney can ask the judge to make your employer pay your attorneys’ fees.

Under Florida law, you have four years to file a lawsuit alleging that your employer failed to pay you the minimum wage. If your employer’s violation of the law was willful, you have five years to file your claim. Under federal law, you have two years from the date your employer violated the FLSA (or the date you learned of the violation) to sue or file an administrative claim. If your employer violated the law willfully, you have three years. 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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