What's Your Unpaid Wage Claim Worth in Missouri?

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

In Missouri, 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. Missouri'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 you worked. For example, if your employer paid you $1 less than the minimum wage for 80 hours of work, you would be entitled to $80 for that pay period.

In Missouri, employers may pay a lower minimum wage to tipped employees, as long as they earn enough in tips to bring their hourly wages up to at least the minimum wage. Missouri employers may pay tipped employees as little as half the state minimum wage. However, if the employee does not make enough in tips to earn at least minimum wage, the employer must make up the difference. To learn more, see Missouri Laws for Tipped Employees.

Unpaid Overtime

Failing to pay the overtime premium is one of the most common wage violations by employers. In Missouri, most employees are entitled to earn overtime if they work more than 40 hours in a workweek. Employees of recreational or seasonal businesses are entitled to overtime if they work more than 52 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 $20 an hour, you are entitled to be paid $30 an hour for overtime work.

Example: Rob works at a clothing store. He usually works 40 hours a week at $12 an hour. When the store does inventory, he has to come in a couple of hours early on three days. He works six extra hours. For that week, he is entitled to $12 an hour for the first 40 hours ($480) and $18 an hour for six overtime hours ($108), for a total of $588.

Unpaid Breaks and Time Off

Neither Missouri nor federal law gives employees the right to any meal or rest breaks during the workday. However, if your employer chooses to provide 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 minimum wage or overtime laws, 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.

Missouri law also requires employers to provide employees with their final paychecks on the day they are fired or laid off. If your employer doesn’t provide your check within seven days after you demand it in writing, you may collect a penalty of a full day’s pay for every day your employer is late, up to 60 days.

Filing a Lawsuit

If your employer failed to pay you all of the wages you earned, you can file a lawsuit or a wage claim with the Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial Relations. The Department has made its wage claim form available online.

If you plan to assert your rights under state law, you must file a lawsuit within two years after the violation. For violations of federal law, you have two years to file, unless your employer willfully violated the law, in which case you have three years to file. Different time limits may apply to other claims that you might have, such as a breach of contract claim.

To find out the full extent of your claims and deadlines, talk to an experienced Missouri 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.

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