What's Your Unpaid Wage Claim Worth in Rhode Island?

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

In Rhode Island, state and federal laws determine how much you must be paid, when you must be paid, and more. If your employer has not paid you properly or on time, you may be entitled to recover not only your unpaid wages, but also penalties intended to punish your employer for wage theft. Below, we explain how to calculate what you are owed.

Unpaid Wages

You are entitled to Rhode Island's minimum wage of $10.10 per hour, because it is higher than the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour.

To calculate your unpaid minimum wage, subtract what you were actually paid per hour from what you should have been paid per hour. For example, let’s say you were paid $3 less than the minimum wage for 80 hours of work. You would be entitled to an extra $240.

In most states, including Rhode Island, employers may pay a lower minimum wage to employees who earn tips, as long as the hourly wage plus tips adds up to at least the full minimum wage. (To learn more, see Rhode Island Laws for Tipped Employees.)

Unpaid Overtime

Failing to pay the overtime premium is one of the most common ways employers violate wage laws. Under Rhode Island and federal law, employees are entitled to overtime (time and a half) if they work more than 40 hours in a week. In addition, employees in Rhode Island are entitled to be paid at the overtime rate for all work performed on Sundays and certain holidays.

You are entitled to overtime unless your employer can prove that you fit into one of the narrow exemptions to the overtime rules. The most common federal exemptions are for outside salespeople and “white-collar” employees who do professional, managerial, and administrative work and who have the authority to make relatively high-level decisions; see our overtime page for more information.

If your employer has failed to pay you for overtime hours you worked, you are entitled to an extra 50% of your hourly rate. For example, if you are usually paid $12 an hour, you are entitled to be paid time and a half—$18 an hour—for overtime work.

Example: Sara works in a bakery, earning $10 an hour. When a coworker calls in sick, she agrees to stay for four extra hours. For that week, she is entitled to $400 for her usual 40 hours at $10 per hour, plus an extra $60 for her four overtime hours at $15 an hour.

Unpaid Breaks and Time Off

In Rhode Island, employees who work an eight-hour shift are entitled to a 30-minute unpaid meal break, while employees who work a six-hour shift are entitled to a 20-minute unpaid meal break. Federal law also requires employers to pay for the following, if provided:

  • any short breaks (less than 20 minutes) during the workday, and
  • any breaks during which you must perform any work (for example, if you're required to eat lunch at your desk in order to wait for a delivery).

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.

Penalties for Unpaid Wages

Federal and state law give employees the right to collect penalties for certain wage violations, if they win an administrative case or lawsuit. Some of these penalties are described below. However, a worker can't necessarily collect them all. Additional penalties may also be available.

If your employer violates the federal minimum wage or overtime laws, you have the right to request liquidated damages in an amount equal to your unpaid wages. In other words, if your employer fails to pay you $4,500 in overtime, you can request another $4,500 in liquidated damages, for a total award of $9,000.

In Rhode Island, a court can order your employer to pay you twice your total unpaid wages as liquidated damages. This includes unpaid minimum wages, overtime, final paychecks, wages that were not paid timely when due, and so on. (To learn when your final paycheck is due, see our state chart on final paychecks.)

If you file a wage claim and the Department of Labor and Training decides in your favor, it can order your employer to pay you a penalty in an amount equal to your unpaid wages. You are also entitled to interest on your award at a rate of 12% per year.

Filing a Lawsuit

If your employer failed to pay you all of the wages you earned, you can file a wage claim with the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training. You must file a wage claim within three years.

You may also file a lawsuit against your employer for unpaid wages. Although you have up to three years to file a claim under state law, you generally have only two years to file for federal wage violations. Because there are multiple deadlines, it’s best to talk to an experienced Rhode Island employment lawyer right away.

A lawyer can help you file a wage claim or file a lawsuit in court seeking to collect your unpaid wages. If you win, your attorney can ask the judge to require your employer to pay his or her fee.

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