What's Your Unpaid Wage Claim Worth in Louisiana?

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

By , J.D. · UC Berkeley School of Law

Although Louisiana does not have its own wage and hour laws, Louisiana employers must comply with the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The FLSA regulates minimum wage, overtime, and other wage rules.

If your employer has failed to pay your 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 wage violations.

Unpaid Wages in Louisiana

Employees must be paid at least the minimum wage for each hour worked. You are entitled to be paid the highest applicable minimum wage where you work, whether that's the federal, state, or local rate.

Because Louisiana doesn't have its own minimum wage law, employees in Louisiana are entitled to the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per 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, simply 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 only $6 an hour for five weeks of full-time work, you would be entitled to an additional $1.25 an hour times 200 hours (40 hours × 5), or a total of $250.

If you receive tips as part of your compensation, your employer can pay you as little as $2.13 an hour, as long as you earn enough in tips to bring your total hourly earnings up to at least the minimum wage. If not, your employer must pay you the difference. To learn more, see Louisiana Laws for Tipped Employees.

Unpaid Overtime in Louisiana

Failing to pay employees properly for overtime is one of the most common wage violations by employers. Under federal law, Louisiana employees are entitled to overtime when they work more than 40 hours in a workweek.

Not all employees are entitled to earn overtime, however. 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 $9 an hour, you are entitled to $13.50 and hour for overtime.

Example: Claire works four eight-hour shifts each week at a department store (32 hours). If she has to stay a couple of hours late one night, she isn't entitled to overtime because she hasn't worked more than 40 hours in the week. However, if she picked up two extra eight-hour shifts for the week, for a total of 48 hours, she would be entitled to eight hours of overtime.

Unpaid Breaks and Time Off

Neither federal nor Louisiana law gives employees the right to take meal or rest breaks during the workday. However, if your employer provides you with breaks, you must be paid for:

  • any short breaks (lasting 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 his desk in order to cover the phones and accept deliveries, he is entitled to be paid for that time – even if his 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 for the week above 40.

Penalties for Unpaid Wages

In addition to being on the hook for your unpaid wages, Louisiana employers can also be required to pay liquidated damages. Liquidated damages are intended to compensate you for financial losses that are difficult to measure.

An employee who wins a minimum wage or overtime case in court can be awarded liquidated damages in an amount equal to his or her unpaid wages. For example, if your employer failed to pay you $1,600 in overtime, you would be entitled to an additional $1,600 in liquidated damages, for a total of $3,200.

Louisiana law requires employers to give employees their final paychecks within 15 days after the employment relationship ends, or on the next regularly scheduled payday, whichever is sooner. (This rule applies whether the employee quits or is fired or laid off.) If your employer doesn't meet this deadline, you can be awarded a penalty of one day's wages for every day your employer is late, up to 90 days.

Filing a Wage Claim or Lawsuit in Louisiana

If your employer failed to pay you all of the wages you earned, you can either file a complaint with the Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor or file a lawsuit. Louisiana doesn't have its own state enforcement agency.

Contact an Attorney

If you aren't comfortable filing a complaint by yourself, or you want to file a lawsuit, talk to an experienced Louisiana 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.

Time Limits

Whether you plan to file a wage claim or hire an attorney to represent you, you should move quickly. If you are filing a federal wage claim or lawsuit, you have two years from the date your employer violated the FLSA or the date you learned of the violation. If your employer violated the law willfully, you have three years to file a claim or lawsuit.

If you are suing over your employer's failure to provide your final paycheck on time, you have three years to file. An attorney can also 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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