What's Your Unpaid Wage Claim Worth in Maryland?

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

In Maryland, 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 on time, 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 and collect what you are owed.

Unpaid Wages

You are entitled to be paid the highest minimum wage that applies where you work, whether that's the federal, state, or local rate. Maryland'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, and then multiply that amount by the total number of hours you worked. For example, if your employer paid you $2 less than the minimum wage for 100 hours of work, you would be entitled to $200.

If you receive tips as part of your compensation, your employer can pay you a lower hourly wage (called taking a "tip credit"). In Maryland, employers may pay you as little as $3.63 an hour. However, employers may take this tip credit only if your hourly wages plus tips add up to at least the minimum wage. Otherwise, your employer must pay you the difference. To learn more, see Maryland Laws for Tipped Employees.

Unpaid Overtime

Failing to pay the overtime premium is one of the most common wage violations by employers. In Maryland, most employees are entitled to earn overtime if they work more than 40 hours in a workweek. However, certain employees are entitled to overtime only when they work more than 48 hours in a week, including: bowling alley employees and residential employees in institutions other than hospitals who care for the sick, elderly, or those with intellectual disabilities. Agricultural employees are entitled to overtime if they work more than 60 hours in a week.

Not all employees are entitled to earn overtime, though. 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 $15 an hour, you are entitled to be paid $22.50 an hour for overtime work.

Example: Carol is a dispatcher for a van service. She usually works five eight-hour shifts a week, at $16 an hour. One week, however, the company is short evening dispatchers. Carol works an extra half-shift two nights. For that week, she is entitled to $16 for her first 40 hours of work ($640) and $24 an hour for eight hours of overtime ($192), or $832 total.

Unpaid Breaks and Time Off

Neither Maryland nor federal law requires employers to provide meal or rest breaks during the workday, paid or not. However, if your employer chooses to provide breaks throughout the day, 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 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 the state minimum wage or overtime laws in Maryland, 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 wages.

Maryland law also requires employers to provide employees with their final paychecks on the day they would have been paid had they not quit, been fired, or been laid off. An employer that fails to provide a final paycheck on time can be required to pay you treble damages: three times your unpaid final wages.

Filing a Lawsuit

If your employer failed to pay you all of the wages you earned, you may be able to file a wage claim with the Maryland Division of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation (DLLR). The Maryland DLLR has made its wage claim form available online. However, if your wage claim is for more than $20,000, you may file with the DLLR only if you can prove that you sought the assistance of an attorney but were denied. You also have the option of filing a lawsuit in court.

If you plan to move forward with a lawsuit or a wage claim, talk to an experienced Maryland 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.

If you plan to assert your rights under state law, you must file a lawsuit within three years and two weeks after your employer failed to pay you the wages you earned. If you file a wage claim with the DLLR, you will be able to collect back wages only for the two-year period prior to filing your claim. For violations of federal law, you have two years (unless your employer willfully violated the law, in which case you have three years).

Talk to a lawyer right away if you are considering legal action. A lawyer can help you meet these deadlines and can 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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