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

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

In South Carolina, 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

The federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour applies in South Carolina. South Carolina does not have its own minimum wage law. However, if your city or county has a higher minimum wage, you are entitled to that amount.

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, if you were paid only $6.25 an hour for your first four weeks of full-time work, you would be entitled to $1 an hour times 40 hours times four weeks, or $160.

In most states, including South Carolina, 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 South Carolina Laws for Tipped Employees.)

Unpaid Overtime

Failing to pay the overtime premium is one of the most common ways employers violate wage laws. Under federal law, South Carolina employees are entitled to overtime if they work more than 40 hours in a week.

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, you are entitled to an extra 50% of your hourly rate. For example, if you are usually paid $10 an hour, you are entitled to be paid time and a half—$15 an hour—for overtime work.

Example: Carole works at a department store, earning $8 an hour. She usually works 40 hours a week, but she agrees to work six extra hours one week, to learn how to close the store. For that week, she is entitled to her usual $320 an hour ($8 times 40 hours), plus $72 in overtime ($12 times six hours).

Unpaid Breaks and Time Off

South Carolina employers are not required to provide any rest breaks or meal breaks to employees. However, under federal law, you are entitled to be paid for the following:

  • any breaks of less than 20 minutes, if provided by your employer, and
  • any breaks during which you must work (for example, if you have to eat lunch at your desk in order to cover the phones and accept deliveries).

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; additional penalties may 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 $5,000 in overtime, you can request another $5,000 in liquidated damages, for a total award of $10,000.

Under South Carolina law, your employer must give you a final paycheck within 48 hours of terminating you or by the next payday, but no more than 30 days after the termination. If your employer violates these provisions, you may ask the court to pay you up to three times the amount you are owed.

Filing a Lawsuit

If your employer failed to pay you all of the wages you earned, you can file a wage claim with the South Carolina Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation. However, while the Department can investigate your claim and try to mediate, it cannot force your employer to pay your wages.

You may also file a lawsuit against your employer for unpaid wages under South Carolina law within three years. Federal law has a shorter time limit: two years for wage violations (or three years, if the employer willfully violated the law).

As you can see, there are multiple deadlines that may apply. If you plan to go forward with a lawsuit or a wage claim, talk to an experienced South Carolina employment lawyer right away. It’s best to file a claim or lawsuit as soon as possible anyway, before memories fade and documents are lost.

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