What's Your Unpaid Wage Claim Worth in Maine?

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

In Maine, 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 the highest minimum wage that applies where they work, whether that's the federal, state, or local rate. Maine's minimum wage is higher than the federal minimum wage of $7.25. If the city or county where you work has an even 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. For example, if your employer paid you $2 less than the minimum wage for 80 hours of work, you would be entitled to $160.

If you receive tips at your job, your employer can pay you a lower hourly wage, as long as you earn enough in tips to bring your total hourly earnings up to minimum wage. To learn more, see Maine Laws for Tipped Employees.

Unpaid Overtime

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

Not all employees are entitled to earn overtime. 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 $14 an hour, you are entitled to $21 an hour for overtime work.

Example: Juan is a legal secretary, working 40 hours a week. He is paid $18 an hour. His law firm takes on a large case that requires him to work two extra hours a day for two weeks (10 extra hours each week). For each of those weeks, he is entitled to $18 an hour for the first 40 hours ($720) and $27 an hour for ten overtime hours ($270), for a total of $990 per week.

Unpaid Breaks and Time Off

Maine law requires most employers to give employees a 30-minute unpaid meal break after six consecutive hours of work. In addition, under federal law, you are entitled to be paid for the following:

  • any short breaks (20 minutes or less) during the workday, if your employer provides them, 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 for the week above 40.

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 Maine, 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 overtime or minimum wage claim.

In Maine, state law requires your employer to provide you with your final paycheck on the next scheduled payday after your employment terminates, or within 14 days of your request for your final check, whichever is sooner. An employer that fails to provide a final paycheck on time can be required to pay twice your final unpaid wages. The same penalty is available if your employer fails to pay you severance if you lose your job in a mass layoff. See Layoff and Plant Closing Laws for Maine Employees for more information.

Filing a Lawsuit

If your employer failed to pay you all of the wages you earned, you can file a wage claim with the Maine Labor Department or file a lawsuit in court.

If you plan to move forward with a lawsuit or a wage claim, talk to an experienced Maine wage and hour lawyer about representing you. 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 lawsuit within six years after your employer failed to pay you the wages you earned. For violations of federal law, you have two years to file (or three years, if your employer willfully violated the law).

However, you shouldn’t wait to pursue your rights. Talk to a lawyer right away if you are considering legal action. A lawyer can also tell you if you have any other claims, such as a breach of contract claim, to which different time limits may apply.

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