What's Your Unpaid Wage Claim Worth in Nebraska?

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

In Nebraska, state and federal laws determine how much you must be paid, when you must be paid, and more. If your employer has failed to timely pay you what you have earned, you may be entitled to recover not only your unpaid wages, but also penalties intended to punish your employer for wage violations. Below, we explain how to calculate and collect what you are owed.

Unpaid Wages

Employees must be paid at least the minimum wage per hour. You are entitled to be paid the highest minimum wage that applies where you work, whether that's the federal, state, or local rate. In Nebraska, the minimum wage is $8. On January 1, 2016, the minimum wage increases to $9 per hour. Most employees are entitled to the state minimum wage because it is higher than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. However, employers with four or fewer employees are not covered by the state’s minimum wage law. So employees at these smaller companies are entitled to the federal minimum wage. If the city or county where you work has a 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 you work for a larger employer and were paid the federal minimum wage rather than the state minimum for eight weeks of full-time work in 2015, you would be entitled to $0.75 times 320 hours (40 hours × 8 weeks), or a total of $240.

In most states, employers may pay a lower minimum wage to employees who earn tips, as long as the employees make enough in tips to bring their hourly wages up to minimum wage. In Nebraska, employers may pay tipped employees as little as $2.13 an hour. However, if the employee doesn't earn enough in tips to make at least the full minimum wage per hour, the employer must make up the difference. To learn more, see Nebraska Laws for Tipped Employees.

Unpaid Overtime

Failing to pay the overtime premium is one of the most common wage violations by employers. While Nebraska doesn’t have its own overtime law, Nebraska employees are covered by the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The FLSA requires employers to pay overtime once an employee works 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 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 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: Brian operates a forklift in a warehouse. He earns $11 an hour and works 40 hours a week. When the warehouse gets a big shipment in, he works a couple of extra hours. For that week, he is entitled to $11 an hour for the first 40 hours ($440) and $16.50 for two overtime hours ($33), for a total of $473.

Unpaid Breaks and Time Off

In Nebraska, employees have the right to a 30-minute unpaid meal break, off premises, if they work an eight-hour shift. Neither federal law or state law requires employers to provide rest breaks. 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 for the week above 40.

Penalties for Unpaid Wages

Federal 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 federal minimum wage or overtime laws, you have the right to request liquidated damages. Liquidated damages are available in an amount equal to your unpaid wages. In other words, if your employer fails to pay you $3,000 in overtime, you can request an additional $3,000 in liquidated damages, for a total award of $6,000.

Filing a Lawsuit

If your employer failed to pay you all of the wages you earned, you can file a wage claim with the Nebraska Department of Labor. (The Department has made its wage claim form available online.) Because Nebraska doesn’t have an overtime law, you must file a wage complaint for unpaid overtime with the U.S. Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division. You may also file a lawsuit in court.

If you plan to move forward with a lawsuit or a wage claim, talk to an experienced Nebraska 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, you should act quickly. For violations of Nebraska law, you typically have four years to file your lawsuit. For violations of federal law, though, you have two years to file (unless the employer’s violation was willful, in which case you have three years). 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 the applicable deadlines, talk to an employment lawyer right away.

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