What's Your Unpaid Wage Claim Worth in Minnesota?

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

In Minnesota, 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 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. Minnesota's minimum wage is higher than the current federal rate 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 that you worked. For example, if you were paid $1 less than the state minimum wage for 160 hours of work, you would be entitled to $160.

In most states, employers may pay a lower minimum wage to employees who earn tips, as long as the hourly wage plus tips adds up to at least the full minimum wage (called a "tip credit"). However, Minnesota does not allow a tip credit. Tipped employees in Minnesota must be paid the full minimum wage. To learn more, see Minnesota Laws for Tipped Employees.

Unpaid Overtime

Failing to pay the overtime premium is one of the most common wage violations by employers. In Minnesota, under federal law, most employees are entitled to earn overtime when they work more than 40 hours a workweek. However, for employees who are not covered by federal law, Minnesota law requires overtime when employees work more than 48 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 ourovertime 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 $18 an hour, you are entitled to $27 an hour for overtime work.

Example: Caitlyn is a barista at a coffee shop. She usually works 40 hours a week at $10 an hour, but she has to stay late two days when a coworker quit without warning. She works a total of four extra hours for the week. Caitlyn is entitled to $10 an hour for the first 40 hours ($400) and $15 for four overtime hours ($60), for a total of $460.

Unpaid Breaks and Time Off

Minnesota law gives employees the right to sufficient paid time every four hours to use the nearest convenient restroom. Employees who work shifts of at least eight hours are also entitled to sufficient unpaid time to eat a meal.

Although federal law doesn’t give employees the right to any breaks, it does require employers to pay for certain time off throughout the day. If your employer provides breaks, 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 for the 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 federal minimum wage or overtime laws, you have the right to request liquidated damages in the 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.

Minnesota law also requires employers to provide employees with their final paychecks within a certain amount of time. If you are fired or laid off, you must receive your final paycheck on your last day. If you quit, you are entitled to receive your paycheck on the next regularly scheduled payday or within 20 days after your last day of work, whichever is sooner.

If you don’t receive your final paycheck on time, you should demand it in writing. If your employer doesn’t give you your final paycheck within 24 hours of receiving your demand, you may collect a penalty of a full day's wages for each day that your employer is late, up to 15 days.

Filing a Lawsuit

If your employer failed to pay you all of the wages you earned, you can file a wage claim with the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry. You can also file a lawsuit in court to collect your unpaid wages.

If you plan to move forward with a lawsuit or wage claim, talk to an experienced Minnesota wage and hour lawyer. A lawyer can file a wage claim on your behalf or file a lawsuit in court 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, you must file a lawsuit within two years after the violation; you have three years to file if the violation was willful. 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 typically apply.

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