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 and other compensation from your employer. Below, we explain common wage violations in Pennsylvania, how to calculate your unpaid wages, and how to pursue your wage claim.
The minimum wage in Pennsylvania is the same as the federal rate: $7.25 per hour. If your city has a higher minimum wage, you are entitled to that amount.
If you didn’t receive the minimum wage, you can collect the difference between your hourly rate and the minimum wage for each hour worked. For example, suppose you worked full time for ten weeks in 2017 and received $6.75 per hour. You can collect the difference of $.50 per hour ($7.25 - $6.25) for 400 hours (40 hours x 10 weeks), for a total of $200.
Consistent with federal law, Pennsylvania 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 $10 per hour (for a total of $500). The last ten of your hours should have been paid at the overtime rate of $15 per hour. So you should receive the difference of $5 per hour ($15 - $10) for ten hours, for a total of $50 extra per week.
In Pennsylvania, employers are not required to provide any meal or rest breaks (except to minors). However, under federal law, employees are entitled to be paid for any breaks of 20 minutes or less or any breaks during which they are not completely relieved of their duties.
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.
Pennsylvania employers must also follow several other wage and hour requirements under federal and state law. Here are some other common wage violations by employers:
Federal law allows employees with minimum wage or overtime claims to 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.
Under Pennsylvania law, employees can recover either $500 or 25% of the unpaid wages as liquidated damages, whichever is greater. However, this provision does not apply if there is a good faith dispute as to whether the wages are owed. And, a certain amount of time must have passed from the date wages were owed (30 days from a regular payday, or if there is no regular payday, 60 days from the time a wage claim is filed). If you win your case, you might also be able to collect reasonable attorneys’ fees and legal costs.
The quickest and easiest way to recover unpaid wages is often to file a wage claim with the Pennsylvania Bureau of Labor Law Compliance. The Bureau handles claims for minimum wage and overtime violations, among others. (For more information on how to file a wage claim, see the Bureau’s website.)
Under state law, your wage claim or lawsuit must be filed within three years from the date the wages were due. However, wage claims and lawsuits based on federal law typically must be filed within two years (the deadline is extended to three years for willful violations). To ensure that your claims are not time-barred, it’s best to file your claim or lawsuit as soon as you know your employer has violated your wage rights.
You don’t need to hire a lawyer to file a claim with the Bureau, although you may do so if you wish. Filing a lawsuit in court is a much more complicated process though, so you should consider hiring an employment lawyer, especially 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.