If you have not been paid properly for your work in the District of Columbia, you may be entitled not only to your unpaid wages, but also to penalties intended to punish your employer for wage violations. Federal and D.C. law determine how much employees must be paid, when they must be paid, and what penalties you can collect from an employer who violates these laws.
Employees must be paid at least the minimum wage for each hour they work. You are entitled to be paid the highest applicable minimum wage where you work, whether that’s the federal, state, or local rate. The minimum wage in D.C. is $12.50 until July 1, 2018, when it will increase to $13.25. Because the federal minimum wage is currently $7.25, employees who work in D.C. are entitled to the higher District wage.
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 at your job, your employer can pay you a lower minimum wage, as long as you earn enough in tips to bring your wages up to minimum wage. In D.C., employers can pay tipped employees as little as $3.33 an hour for the first half of 2018. See District of Columbia Laws for Tipped Employees to learn more.
Failing to pay employees properly for overtime is one of the most common wage violations by employers. In the District of Columbia, employees are entitled to overtime if they work more than 40 hours in a workweek.
Not all employees are entitled to earn overtime. 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 properly 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 $12 an hour, you should be paid $18 an hour for overtime work.
Example: Jayden usually works an eight-hour shift, Monday through Friday, for $15 an hour. When several of his coworkers get the flu, his manager asks him to work late on Monday and Tuesday. He works two extra hours both days. He is entitled to be paid time-and-a-half – or $22.50 – for those four extra hours, for a total of $90 (in addition to 40 hours at his regular rate).
Neither federal law nor District of Columbia law gives employees the right to take meal or rest breaks during the workday. However, if your employer chooses to let you take breaks, you may be entitled to pay for that time. You are entitled to be paid for:
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 eight in a day or 40 in a workweek.
The District of Columbia gives employees the right to request penalties, on top of the wages they are owed, if their employers fail to pay them properly or on time. Here are some of the penalties that might be available:
If your employer failed to pay you all of the wages you earned, you can either file a wage claim with the D.C. Department of Employment Services (DOES) or file a lawsuit in court. You have three years to file your wage claim or a lawsuit for unpaid wages or overtime under state law. For violations of federal law, you must file within two years (or, if your employer's violations were willful, within three years). 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.
If you aren’t comfortable filing a claim on your own behalf, or you have a large or complex wage claim, consult with an experienced D.C. wage and hour lawyer. A lawyer can file a wage claim on your behalf or file a lawsuit in court. If you win, your attorney can ask the judge to make your employer pay your attorneys’ fees.