What's Your Unpaid Wage Claim Worth in Hawaii?

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

In Hawaii, federal and state law determine how much you must be paid, when you must be paid, and more. 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 violating the law. Below, we explain how to calculate what you are owed and how to assert your wage and hour rights.

Unpaid Wages

Employees must be paid at least the minimum wage per hour. You are entitled to be paid the highest minimum wage that applies where you work, whether that’s the federal, state, or local rate. As of January 1, 2018, the minimum wage is $10.10. Employees in Hawaii are entitled to receive the state minimum wage because it is higher than the federal minimum wage ($7.25). 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 $3 less than the minimum wage for 120 hours of work, you would be entitled to $360.

If you receive tips at your job in Hawaii, your employer can pay you $0.75 less than the minimum wage, as long as you make enough in tips to bring your total wages up to at least $7 more than the state minimum wage per hour. To learn more, see Hawaii Laws for Tipped Employees.

Unpaid Overtime

Failing to pay the overtime premium is one of the most common wage violations by employers. In Hawaii, employees must be paid overtime for every hour they work over 40 in a workweek. Sugarcane, dairy, and seasonal agricultural workers must receive overtime only if they work more than 48 hours per 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 $16 an hour, you should be paid $24 an hour for overtime work.

Example: Jabari earns $11 an hour at a surf shop. When a major surfing competition comes to town, every employee has to work extra hours to meet the demand. Jabari works three ten-hour days and three eight-hour days during the week of the competition (for a total of 54 hours). He is entitled to his usual $11 an hour for the first 40 hours of work, plus $16.50 an hour (one-and-a-half times his usual hourly rate) for the remaining 14 hours of work.

Unpaid Breaks and Time Off

Neither federal nor Hawaii law requires employers to provide employees with 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.

Liquidated Damages

In Hawaii, you can be awarded liquidated damages if your employer willfully fails to pay you minimum wage or overtime. Liquidated damages are intended to compensate you for losses caused by your employer’s actions that are difficult to quantify. You can receive an amount equal to your unpaid wages as liquidated damages. If, for example, your employer owes you $4,500 in unpaid overtime, you can get an additional $4,500 in liquidated damages, for a total of $9,000.

Final Paychecks

If you are fired or laid off, your employer must give you your final paycheck immediately. If you quit, you are also entitled to your final paycheck on your last day, as long as you gave a full pay period’s worth of notice. If you gave less notice, you are entitled to receive you check on the next regularly scheduled payday. Employers who violate these rules may have to pay a penalty in the amount of the wages you should have been paid, plus 6% interest per year while your wages remain unpaid.

Filing a Lawsuit

If your employer failed to pay you all of the wages you earned, you can file a complaint with Hawaii’s Wage Standards Division or file a lawsuit in court. You have only one year from the date your employer failed to pay your wages to file a wage complaint with the Hawaii Wage Standards Division. You have six years to file a lawsuit for unpaid minimum wages and overtime under state law. However, for violations of federal law, you must file within two years (or within 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.

If you plan to move forward with a lawsuit or complaint, talk to an experienced Hawaii wage and hour lawyer about representing you. A lawyer can file a wage complaint 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.

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