What's Your Unpaid Wage Claim Worth in North Carolina?

Employees can collect unpaid wages and penalties for wage violations.

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 North Carolina, how to calculate your unpaid wages, and how to pursue your wage claim.

Unpaid Minimum Wage

The minimum wage in North Carolina is the same as the federal minimum wage: $7.25 per hour. Employees who regularly receive tips may be paid a lower minimum wage, as long as they earn enough in tips to make the minimum wage for each hour worked. (To learn more, see our article on how tipped employees are paid in North Carolina.)

If you didn’t receive the minimum wage in North Carolina, 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, suppose you worked full-time and received $6 per hour for the first 12 weeks of 2017. You can collect the difference of $1.25 per hour ($7.25 - $6) for 480 hours (40 hours x 12 weeks), for a total of $600.

Unpaid Overtime

Consistent with federal law, North Carolina employers must pay employees time-and-a-half when they work more than 40 hours in a work week. (Exempt employees are not entitled to overtime pay. To learn more, see our article on which employees are exempt from overtime.)

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 $8 per hour (for a total of $400). The last ten of your hours should have been paid at the overtime rate of $12 per hour. So you should receive the difference of $4 per hour ($12 - $8) for ten hours, for a total of $40 extra per week.

Meals and Rest Breaks

Neither North Carolina nor federal law requires employers to provide meal or rest breaks to employees. However, if an employer chooses to provide breaks, federal law requires that all breaks of 20 minutes or less be paid. And, if you’re required to do any work during a break—even sitting at your desk to wait for a phone call or delivery—you must be paid for that time.

To calculate your unpaid wages, add up:

  • any breaks of more than 20 minutes that you were required to work through, and
  • any breaks of 20 minutes or less, whether you worked through them or not.

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.

Other Common Wage Violations in North Carolina

North Carolina employers must also follow several other wage and hour requirements under federal and state law. Here are some other common wage violations by employers:

  • failing to pay you for work performed before or after you clock in
  • failure to pay earned bonuses or commissions
  • failure to pay vacation, sick, or holiday time, as promised by the employer
  • failure to provide a final paycheck on time, and
  • deductions from wages, except when required by law or authorized by the employee in writing.

Additional Compensation for Wage Violations in North Carolina

In North Carolina, employees with minimum wage or overtime claims can collect an additional sum called “liquidated damages.” Liquidated damages are intended to compensate you for the delay in payment of your wages. You can collect 100% of your unpaid wages as liquidated damages. For example, if you are owed $1,000 in unpaid minimum wage and overtime, you can collect another $1,000, for a total of $2,000.

If you win your case, you may also be able to collect:

  • 8% interest on your unpaid wages
  • reasonable attorneys’ fees, and
  • legal costs.

Filing a Claim for Unpaid Wages in North Carolina

The quickest and easiest way to recover unpaid wages is typically to file a wage claim with the North Carolina Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Bureau. The Wage and Hour Bureau handles various wage violations, including minimum wage violations, overtime violations, unauthorized deductions, and more. The Bureau will investigate your claim, make a decision, and help you recover any wages that are owed.

To start your claim, you must file a wage complaint. You can do so by phone or by mailing in a letter of complaint. You will need to provide certain information, including:

  • your name and contact information
  • your employer’s name and contact information
  • your regular rate of pay
  • dates of employment
  • hours worked, and
  • the amount you are claiming and why.

For more information, see the Bureau’s factsheet on how to file a wage complaint.

Filing Deadlines

Under North Carolina law, you generally have two years to file your wage claim. However, when the volume of complaints is high, the Wage and Hour Bureau may only accept claims for wages that were due within the last year. It’s best to file your claim as soon as possible anyway, though, to ensure that you have access to witnesses and relevant evidence.

Alternatively, you may file a lawsuit in court to collect your unpaid wages. Filing in court is a much more complicated process though, so you should consider hiring an employment lawyer. This option would make sense if you are claiming a large amount in unpaid wages. If you’re not sure which is the best route for you, consult with a lawyer first.

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