What's Your Unpaid Wage Claim Worth in Texas?

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

Unpaid Minimum Wage

The minimum wage in Texas 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 Texas.)

If you didn’t receive the minimum wage in Texas, 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 $6.25 per hour for the first 12 weeks of 2017. You can collect the difference of $1 per hour ($7.25 - $6.25) for 480 hours (40 hours x 12 weeks), for a total of $480.

Unpaid Overtime

Consistent with federal law, Texas 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.

Meals and Rest Breaks

Unlike some other states, Texas does not require employers to provide meal or rest breaks to employees. Federal law does not require either type of break either. (For more information, see our article on Texas meal and rest breaks.)

However, if a Texas 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 Texas

Texas 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, and
  • unauthorized deductions from wages, such as for the cost of uniforms or equipment, for cash shortages, or for property damage.

Penalties for Wage Violations in Texas

In Texas, 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 $1,200 in unpaid minimum wage and overtime, you can collect another $1,200, for a total of $2,400.

In some cases, you can also collect the following if you win your case:

  • attorneys’ fees, and
  • court costs.

Filing a Claim for Unpaid Wages in Texas

The quickest and easiest way to recover unpaid wages is typically to file a wage claim with the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC). The TWC handles various wage violations, including minimum wage violations, overtime violations, unauthorized deductions, unpaid bonuses, and unpaid commissions. The TWC will investigate your claim, make a decision, and help you recover any wages that are owed.

To start your claim, you must complete a Wage Claim and mail or fax it to the TWC. You must file your wage claim within 180 days after your wages became due. The TWC provides a tutorial on how to fill out the wage claim form.

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. You can also hire a lawyer to represent you before TWC, although it is not a requirement. If you’re not sure which is the best route for you, consult with a lawyer first.

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