What's Your Unpaid Wage Claim Worth in Kentucky?

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

In Kentucky, federal and state law determine how much you must be paid, when you must be paid, and more. If your employer has failed to pay you properly or in a timely fashion, you may be entitled to recover not only your unpaid wages, but also penalties intended to punish your employer for breaking the law. Below, we explain how to calculate what you are owed and how to assert your wage and hour rights.

Unpaid Wages

Employees must be paid at least the minimum wage per hour. You are entitled to be paid the highest minimum wage that applies where you work, whether that's the federal, state, or local rate. In Kentucky, the minimum wage is the same as the federal minimum: $7.25 an hour. If the city or county where you work has a higher minimum wage, you are entitled to that amount.

To calculate your unpaid minimum wage claim, take the difference between what you were actually paid per hour and what you should have been paid per hour, and then multiply that amount by the total number of hours you worked. For example, if your employer paid you $6 an hour for six weeks of full-time work, you would be entitled to $1.25 ($7.25 −$6) an hour times 240 hours (40 hours × 6 weeks), for a total of $300.

If you receive tips as part of your compensation, your employer can pay you a lower hourly wage, as long as you make enough in tips to earn at least the state minimum wage. In Kentucky, employers may pay you as little as $2.13 an hour. However, if your hourly earnings plus tips don't add up to at least the minimum wage, your employer must pay you the difference. To learn more, see Kentucky Laws for Tipped Employees.

Unpaid Overtime

Failing to pay the overtime premium is one of the most common wage violations by employers. In Kentucky, employees are entitled to earn overtime if they work more than 40 hours in a workweek.

Not all employees are entitled to earn overtime for extra hours. While hourly, nonexempt employees have a right to overtime, other categories of employees are exempt. The most common exemptions are for outside salespeople and “white-collar” employees who do professional, managerial, and high-level administrative work (see our overtime page for more details and exemption categories). Unless your employer can prove that you fit into one of these narrow exemptions, you are entitled to receive overtime.

If your employer has failed to pay you for overtime hours, your unpaid wages are the difference between what you should have been paid and what you were paid. For overtime hours, employees are entitled to time-and-a-half. This means that you're owed an extra 50% of your hourly rate, on top of your regular pay. For example, if you are usually paid $13 an hour, you must be paid $19.50 an hour for overtime work.

Example: Juno works 40 hours a week at a fast food chain, earning the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. He has to stay late a couple of nights to clean up, after especially busy shifts. He works four extra hours total. For that week, he is entitled to $7.25 for the first 40 hours ($290) and $10.875 for four overtime hours ($43.50).

Unpaid Breaks and Time Off

Kentucky law requires employers to provide both meal breaks and rest breaks. Employees must get a “reasonable” off-duty meal period as close to the middle of their shifts as possible. They cannot be required to take this break before the third hour or after the fifth hour of work. In addition, employees are entitled to a paid ten-minute rest break for every four hours worked. These rest breaks are in addition to the required meal break and cannot be substituted for it.

In addition, under federal law, you are entitled to be paid for the following:

  • any short breaks (20 minutes or less) during the workday, and
  • any time during which you must work, even if your employer calls it a break. For example, if an office receptionist must eat lunch at her desk in order to cover the phones and accept deliveries, she is entitled to be paid for that time – even if her employer calls it a “lunch break.”

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 above 40 per workweek.

Penalties for Unpaid Wages

Federal and state law give employees the right to collect penalties in addition to the wages they should have been paid, if they win their administrative claims or lawsuits. Some of these penalties are described below; additional penalties may be available under state or local law.

If your employer violates minimum wage or overtime laws in Kentucky, you have the right to request liquidated damages: money intended to compensate you for losses that are more difficult to quantify. You can request liquidated damages in an amount equal to your unpaid minimum wage or overtime claim. However, your employer can defend itself by showing that it acted in good faith and had reason to believe that it was paying you lawfully. If the court accepts your employer’s argument, it can award a smaller amount of liquidated damages or none at all.

Employers are also subject to civil penalties for violating the state’s wage and hour laws. However, these penalties are paid to the state, not to the employees who were harmed by the employer’s actions.

Filing a Lawsuit

If your employer failed to pay you all of the wages you earned, you can file a wage claim with the Kentucky Labor Cabinet or file a lawsuit in court. (The Kentucky Labor Department allows you to file a wage claim online.)

If you plan to move forward with a lawsuit or a wage claim, talk to an experienced Kentucky wage and hour lawyer. A lawyer can file a wage claim on your behalf or file a lawsuit in court seeking to collect your unpaid wages. If you win your lawsuit, your attorney can ask the judge to make your employer pay your attorneys' fees.

To assert your rights under state law, you must file a claim within five years after your employer failed to pay you the wages you earned. For federal wage violations, you must file your claim within two years (or three years, if your employer's violation was willful). It's best to talk to a lawyer right away if you are considering legal action. An attorney can help you meet these deadlines and tell you if you have any other claims, such as a breach of contract claim, to which different time limits typically apply.

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