Has your employer failed to pay you minimum wage or overtime or failed to give you meal breaks? If so, you may be able to recover unpaid wages from your employer, as well as a monetary penalty. Below, we explain common wage violations in New York, how to calculate your unpaid wages, and how to pursue your wage claim.
Employees are entitled to the highest applicable minimum wage, whether it's the federal, state, or local rate. New York's minimum wage is significantly higher than the current federal minimum wage of $7.25. If you work in New York City or other parts of New York, you are entitled to an even higher rate. Fast food employees are also entitled to a higher minimum wage, depending on location and size of employer. (To calculate your minimum wage, use the New York Labor Department’s minimum wage calculator.)
If you didn’t receive the minimum wage, you can collect unpaid wages from your employer. To calculate the amount due, take the difference between your hourly rate and the minimum wage. Then, multiply that amount by the number of hours worked. For example, if your employer paid you $3 less than the applicable minimum wage for 80 hours of work, you would be entitled to $240.
Different minimum wages apply to tipped employees. To learn more, see our article on how tipped employees are paid in New York.
Consistent with federal law, New York employers must pay employees time-and-a-half when they work more than 40 hours in a work week (or 44 hours per week, for live-in domestic workers). Certain types of salaried employees are exempt from overtime laws; to learn more, see our article explaining the white-collar exemptions.
If you didn’t receive the overtime rate, you can collect 50% of your regular rate per hour. For example, suppose you worked 50 hours during the week but only received your regular hourly rate of $12 per hour (for a total of $600). The last ten of your hours should have been paid at the overtime rate of $18 per hour. So you should receive the difference of $6 per hour ($18 - $12) for ten hours, for a total of $60 extra per week.
New York requires employers to prove meal breaks to their employees at certain times throughout the day. For lunch, employees who work more than six hours must receive a 30-minute lunch period between 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. For shifts that begin before 11:00 a.m. and continue past 7:00 p.m., employees must receive an additional 20-minute meal period for dinner between 5:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. For late-starting shifts between 1:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. that last more than six hours, employees must receive a 45-minute meal period during the middle of their shift. (Factory employees are entitled to additional time; for more information, see our article on New York meal and rest breaks.
The meal period can be unpaid, as long as you are fully relieved of all work duties. If you’re required to do any work—even sitting at your desk to wait for a phone call or delivery—you must be paid for your time. Also, under federal law, your employer must pay you for any breaks that are 20 minutes or less, even if you’re fully relieved of all work duties (for example, a bathroom break or coffee break).
To calculate your unpaid wages, add up:
This time counts are hours worked, for which you must be paid. If the additional time results in overtime, you must be compensated at your overtime rate.
New York employers must also follow several other wage and hour requirements under federal and state law. Here are some other common wage violations by employers:
In New York, employees with wage claims can collect an additional sum called “liquidated damages.” You can collect 100% of your unpaid wages as liquidated damages if your wage claim includes violations of minimum wage, overtime, meal break, or day or rest laws. For example, if you are owed $1,200 in unpaid minimum wage and overtime, you can collect another $1,200 in liquidated damages, for a total of $2,400.
In some cases, you can also collect the following if you win your case:
Additional penalties are available if your employer failed to provide with certain notices or information, including:
The quickest and easiest way to recover unpaid wages is typically to file a wage claim with the New York Department of Labor. For most wage violations, you must complete a Claim for Unpaid Wage (LS 22). For unpaid bonuses or vacation, sick, or holiday pay, you must complete a Claim for Unpaid Wage Supplements (LS 425). The Department of Labor will investigate your claim, hold a hearing, and help you recover any wages that are owed.
Alternatively, you may file a lawsuit in court to collect your unpaid wages. However, filing in court is a much more complicated process. Unless you have a very small and simple claim, you should consider hiring an employment lawyer. You can also hire a lawyer to represent you before the Department of Labor.
You have six years to collect unpaid wages from your employer under state law, but only two years for violations of federal law (or three years if the employer willfully violated the law). However, it’s best to file your claim or consult with an employment lawyer as soon as you know you have a wage claim.