What's Your Unpaid Wage Claim Worth in Michigan?

In Michigan, 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

Employees must be paid the highest minimum wage that applies where they work, whether that's the federal, state, or local rate. Michigan's minimum wage is higher than the federal minimum wage. 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 $1 less than the minimum wage for 120 hours of work, you would be entitled to $120.

If you receive tips as part of your compensation, your employer can pay you a lower hourly wage (called taking a "tip credit"). To learn more, see Michigan Laws for Tipped Employees.

Unpaid Overtime

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

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 $14 an hour, you are entitled to be paid $21 an hour for overtime work.

Example: Florence works for a doggie day care and training facility, earning $10 an hour. During holiday weekends, she picks up extra shifts to earn overtime. She usually works 40 hours a week, but she works an extra ten hours during the week between Christmas and New Year's, for a total of 50 hours. She is entitled to $10 an hour for the first 40 hours ($400) and $15 an hour for the ten overtime hours ($150), for a total of $550.

Unpaid Breaks and Time Off

Neither Michigan nor federal law requires employers to give employees meal or rest breaks during the day. However, if your employer chooses to provide time off 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 above 40 per week.

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 minimum wage or overtime laws in Michigan, you have the right to request liquidated damages in the total amount of your unpaid wages. In other words, if your employer fails to pay you $2,000 in overtime, you can request an additional $2,000 in liquidated damages, for a total award of $4,000.

Michigan law also requires employers to provide employers with their final paychecks on the day they are fired or laid off. If you quit, you are entitled to receive your paycheck as soon as the amount you are owed can be determined. If your employer doesn’t meet these deadlines, your employer may have to pay a penalty of 10% per year on the amount you're owed. In addition, if your employer’s violation of the law is flagrant or a repeat violation, you can be awarded up to twice the amount of your unpaid final wages as a penalty.

Filing a Lawsuit

If your employer failed to pay you all of the wages you earned, you can file a wage claim with the Wage and Hour Program of the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs. The Attorney General’s office has made a wage claim form available online. You can also file a lawsuit in court.

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

For most violations of state law, you must file a lawsuit within three years after your employer failed to pay you the minimum wage or overtime you are owed. However, for claims regarding your final paycheck, you have only 12 months to file. For violations of federal law, you have two years to file (or three years, if your employer's violation was willful).

However, if you're considering legal action, you shouldn’t wait to pursue your rights. It’s best to file a claim quickly, before evidence disappears and memories fade. And, different time limits may apply to other claims that you might have, such as a breach of contract claim. A lawyer can help you identify all of your claims and help you file in a timely manner.

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