As an employee in Rhode Island or Massachusetts, you have rights. One very important right is the right to wages and hours. At a minimum, employers must pay their employees the minimum wage established by law. An employer must pay employees for all hours worked. Employers must pay hourly employees overtime for overtime hours worked. Employers must classify their employees properly in terms of whether they are hourly, salary, or contract. Employers must comply with the law to ensure employees are protected and paid properly.
More ways than one exists to violate an employee's right to wages and hours. At ODU Law Firm, LLC, our employment lawyers are located in Cranston, Rhode Island, County of Providence, and licensed to practice law in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, including in both state and federal courts. We can help you identify and resolve a wage and hour violation. Contact us at (401) 2029-2029 to schedule a free consultation and learn more about how we can make sure you are paid what you are owed and compensated accordingly for any additional damages.
Protections for Employee Wages and Hours
There are a number of federal and state laws that provide protections for employees to prevent wage and hour violations, also referred to as wage theft. Key protections are found in federal law with state law often providing the same, if not better, protections.
Minimum Wage Laws
The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) sets the federal minimum wage, and many states have their own minimum wage laws that provide even greater protections. These laws ensure that employers pay employees at least a certain amount for their work.
Overtime Pay Laws
The FLSA also requires employers to pay overtime at a rate of at least one and a half times an employee's regular rate of pay for all hours worked over 40 in a workweek. Some states have their own overtime laws that provide additional protections.
Employers are required to keep accurate records of all hours worked by their employees. This includes both regular and overtime hours, as well as any meal and rest breaks taken. Employees should also be able to access their own records of hours worked.
The FLSA provides rules for classifying employees as either exempt or non-exempt from overtime pay requirements. Employers must ensure that employees are properly classified and are not misclassified in order to avoid paying overtime.
Protections for Tipped Employees
Employers must ensure that employees who receive tips are paid at least the minimum wage. Tips cannot be used to offset the employer's minimum wage obligations.
Employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who file wage and hour claims or raise concerns about violations.
Consequences of Wage Theft in Rhode Island and Massachusetts
Employees whose employer has violated wage and hour laws can file a complaint with the appropriate government agency, such as the Department of Labor or a state labor department, or they can file a lawsuit. Employers found to have violated these laws can face penalties, fines, and other consequences.
The range of consequences facing employers who violate any of these laws include but are not limited to:
- Back Wages. Employers may be required to pay employees the wages for work performed but not properly compensated. This payment may include unpaid wages, overtime pay, and other benefits like paid time off.
- Penalties. Employers may be subject to civil or criminal penalties for violating wage and hour laws. These penalties can be significant and may include fines, damages, and other fees.
- Legal Costs (Attorneys Fees). Employers may incur significant legal costs in defending against wage and hour claims. Legal costs include attorney fees (to defend and/or an award of attorney's fees to the plaintiff employee), court costs, and other expenses.
- Reputational Damage. Employers who violate wage and hour laws may suffer damage to their reputation and brand, which can negatively impact their ability to attract and retain customers, employees, and investors.
- Government Audits. Employers who violate wage and hour laws may be subject to audits and investigations by government agencies, which can be time-consuming and disruptive to their business operations.
- Lawsuits. Employers who violate wage and hour laws may face lawsuits by employees or class action lawsuits, which can result in significant damages that go well beyond the total sum of back wages but can include other damages and losses.
In addition to these consequences, employers may also face increased scrutiny and monitoring from government agencies, which can make it more difficult for them to operate their businesses. Employers should make sure they comply with all wage and hour laws to avoid these consequences.
Examples of Wage and Hour Violations in Rhode Island and Massachusetts
Wage and hour claims are legal disputes that arise when an employer fails to comply with federal or state laws related to minimum wage, overtime, and other aspects of compensation for employees. These claims typically involve allegations that an employer has not paid an employee the wages or benefits to which they are entitled.
Examples of wage and hour violations include:
- Failing to pay an employee the minimum wage required by law
- Failing to pay an employee overtime for hours worked over 40 in a workweek – often this failure includes time worked as well as on-call time (where an employee waits to be engaged to perform their tasks)
- Failing to pay an employee for all hours worked, including time spent on tasks like opening or closing the business, work performed off-the-clock, and on-call time
- Misclassifying an employee as exempt from overtime pay when they are actually eligible
- Misclassifying an employee as a contractor to pay a wage lower than the minimum provided by law
- Failing to provide required meal and rest breaks
- Failing to pay an employee for unused vacation or sick time upon termination
- Failing to pay the difference between a worker's tips and the legal minimum wage
- Taking tips from workers even if what the employee is left with after paid meets minimum wage laws
When an employee believes that their employer has violated wage and hour laws, they may file a claim with the Department of Labor or file a lawsuit against their employer.
Steps to Take if Employees' Wages and Hours are Violated
If an employee believes their employer has committed wage theft, several steps may be taken to remedy the situation.
- Talk to the Employer. Always viewed as the first step, employees can try to resolve the issue by speaking with their employer and informing them of the violation. It is important to keep a record of any conversations or correspondence with the employer.
- File a Claim with the Department of Labor. Employees can file a complaint with the Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division. The department will investigate the claim and, if it finds that the employer violated the law, may require the employer to pay back wages and other penalties.
- File a Lawsuit. Employees can file a lawsuit against their employer for violating wage and hour laws. Employees should consult with an attorney before filing a lawsuit.
- Join a Class Action Lawsuit. If other employees have been similarly affected, the employees can join a class action or collective action lawsuit. This can provide more leverage and resources to pursue the claim.
- Seek Legal Advice. Employees can consult with an attorney who specializes in wage and hour law to understand their legal options and to ensure that their rights are protected.
It is important for employees to act quickly if they believe that their employer has violated their wages or hours. There are time limits for filing a claim or lawsuit, so it is best to seek legal advice as soon as possible.
Rhode Island and Massachusetts Wage and Hour Claims Process
The wage and hour claims process can vary depending on the specific laws and regulations in the employee's jurisdiction. However, six general steps are typically involved in the process.
- File a Complaint. The first step in the process is for the employee to file a complaint with the appropriate government agency. This may be the U.S. Department of Labor or a state labor department, depending on the laws and regulations in the employee's jurisdiction. The complaint should include details about the alleged violation, like dates and times worked, the amount of pay received, and any other relevant information.
- Investigation. The government agency will investigate the complaint to determine if there has been a violation of wage and hour laws. This may involve interviewing the employee and the employer, reviewing records and documentation, and conducting on-site inspections.
- Determination. After the investigation, the government agency will make a determination as to whether there has been a violation of wage and hour laws. If there has been a violation, the agency may require the employer to pay back wages, penalties, and other damages.
- Negotiation or Mediation. In some cases, the government agency may attempt to negotiate a settlement between the employee and the employer. This step may involve mediation or other forms of dispute resolution.
- Administrative Hearing. If a settlement cannot be reached, the employee may request an administrative hearing to adjudicate the claim. This is a formal legal proceeding in which a judge or administrative law judge will hear arguments and evidence from both sides and make a decision.
- Lawsuit. If the employee is not satisfied with the outcome of the administrative hearing, they may choose to file a lawsuit against the employer to pursue their claim. In many cases, individuals with an attorney can seek permission to skip the administrative process and request and pursue a Right to Sue, which is permission to bring the wage and hour case straight to court if an amicable resolution could not be reached between the parties.
The wage and hour claims process can be complex and time-consuming. Employees who believe that their wages or hours have been violated should seek the advice of an attorney to help them navigate the process.
Contact an Employment Law Attorney licensed in Rhode Island and Massachusetts Today
We rely on our employers to pay us what we are owed. We depend on our wages so we can pay for all of life's expenses. When denied what is ours, we must fight back to ensure our rights are upheld. If you believe you are a victim of wage theft, contact ODU Law Firm, LLC, and our employment law lawyer in Rhode Island will provide smart legal guidance on the matter.
At ODU Law Firm, LLC, we can be with you at the start of step one, so that when you meet with your employer, you understand your rights and are prepared. In fact, at any step of the process, we will be there to guide you and advocate your interests. Contact us today by filling out the online form or calling us at (401) 2029-2029 to schedule a free consultation.