What's Your Unpaid Wage Claim Worth in Virginia?

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

By , J.D. · UC Berkeley School of Law

In Virginia, 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

Virginia's minimum hourly wage is $12 per hour in 2023, higher than the federal minimum wage of $7.25. If you live in a city or county with 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, let's say you were paid $8 an hour for a full week of work. You are entitled to an additional $4 an hour times 40 hours, or $160.

In most states, including Virginia, 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 Virginia 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, Virginia 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 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: Luis works as a paralegal for a law firm. He usually works 40 hours a week and is paid $16 an hour. Luis agrees to work 10-hour shifts for a week to help prepare for a big trial. For that week, he is entitled to his usual $640 for 40 hours at $16 an hour, plus an additional $240 for his ten hours of overtime at $24 an hour.

Unpaid Breaks and Time Off

Virginia employers are not required to provide any meal or rest breaks. However, if they choose to do so, they must pay for the following under federal law:

  • 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 $4,500 in overtime, you can request an additional $4,500 in liquidated damages, for a total award of $9,000.

Virginia law requires employers to pay all wages owed to terminated employees by the next scheduled payday, whether the employee quits or is fired. Employers must also pay hourly employees at least twice a month, and salaried employees at least once a month. Employers that violate these laws can be required to pay 8% annual interest on the unpaid wages to the employee.

Filing a Lawsuit

If your employer failed to pay you all of the wages you earned, you can file a wage claim with the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry. Your wage claim must meet certain requirements. For example, if your employer owes you more than $15,000, you may not file a wage claim.

You may also file a lawsuit against your employer for unpaid wages. If you plan to go forward with a lawsuit or a wage claim, talk to an experienced Virginia employment lawyer right away. You may have only two years in which to file a claim, and it's best to file quickly, before memories fade and documents are lost.

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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