What's Your Unpaid Wage Claim Worth in Vermont?

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

In Vermont, 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 be paid the highest minimum wage that applies where you work, whether federal, state, or local. Vermont's minimum wage is significantly higher than the federal minimum wage.

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 $3 less than the minimum wage for 80 hours of work, you would be entitled to an additional $240.

In most states, including Vermont, 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 Vermont Laws for Tipped Employees.)

Unpaid Overtime

Failing to pay the overtime premium is one of the most common ways employers violate wage laws. Under Vermont and federal law, 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 $12 an hour, you are entitled to be paid time and a half—$18 an hour—for overtime work.

Example: Van works as a mechanic for a car dealership. He usually works 40 hours a week and earns $18 an hour. When the car company that supplies the dealership issues an urgent seat belt recall, the dealership is swamped. Van agrees to work ten hours a day for one week to help out. For that week, Van is entitled to his usual $720 ($18 an hour for 40 hours of work) plus an additional $270 (ten extra hours at $27 an hour).

Unpaid Breaks and Time Off

Vermont law requires employers to give employees reasonable opportunities to eat and use the bathroom while at work. Additionally, under federal law, you are entitled to be paid for the following, if your employer provides them:

  • any short breaks (less than 20 minutes) during the workday, and
  • any breaks during which you must perform any 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 $3,000 in overtime, you can request an additional $3,000 in liquidated damages, for a total award of $6,000.

Under Vermont law, the Labor Commissioner may order your employer to pay a penalty in an amount equal to your unpaid wages, if it finds your employer willfully failed to pay you what you were owed. If you sue your employer for failing to pay you the minimum wage, you can ask the court to order your employer to pay you twice the minimum wage (less what your employer already paid you).

Filing a Lawsuit

If your employer failed to pay you all of the wages you earned, you can file a wage claim with the Vermont Department of Labor. You have two years to file a wage claim.

You may also file a lawsuit against your employer for unpaid wages. For some wage claims (including failure to pay you after termination), you have two years to file a lawsuit. You may have longer to file certain types of claims. However, you shouldn’t delay: Once you realize that you may not have been paid everything you are owed, you should talk to a lawyer right away. Memories fade, and records can get lost or disappear. It’s best to file your wage claim or lawsuit quickly, get any money you are owed, and move on.

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