Compliance Watch:
What are my rights as an hourly employee in Rhode Island?

April 16th 2024

It is paramount to acknowledge that your hourly employment rights surpasses mere legal requirements; they serve as the driving force for professional growth, giving you the confidence to alter your own career path.

The income you earn as you punch in and out of work everyday significantly impacts your standing in the employment landscape. While employment requirements differ among U.S. states, you might be contemplating your particular employment entitlements and how they correspond with your state’s regulations.

Hence, this article is designed to address your inquiries pertaining to different employment aspects, with the objective of furnishing you with the essential knowledge to protect your legal rights throughout your career trajectory.

This Article Covers

Defining an Hourly Employee in Rhode Island
Wage and Hour Regulations in Rhode Island 
Rest Laws in Rhode Island
Deductions, Benefits, and Protections in Rhode Island
Termination of Employment in Rhode Island

Defining an Hourly Employee in Rhode Island

What is Hourly Employment in Rhode Island?

Fundamentally, the payment structure for hourly wage earners depends on the hours worked in a pay period, resulting in a variable total income from one payment cycle to another.

To ensure hourly workers are accurately paid, time tracking tools are typically employed to document their billable hours. In contrast, salaried employees receive a fixed yearly amount irrespective of their actual working hours.

Moreover, while hourly workers might be qualified for overtime pay, they may receive lesser job benefits, like health insurance or retirement benefits, in comparison to salaried employees.

What are the Key Differences Between Salaried and Hourly Employees in Rhode Island?

Aspect Hourly Employees Salaried Employees
Compensation Paid per hour worked. Paid on a monthly or bimonthly basis. 
Overtime Pay Eligible to earn overtime compensation. May be ineligible to earn overtime  compensation.
Minimum wage Eligible to earn the state’s minimum wage. May be ineligible to earn the state’s minimum wage.
Employment benefits Fewer job benefits. More job benefits.
Rest and Meal Breaks Rightly entitled to mandatory rest and meal breaks. Rightly entitled to mandatory rest and meal breaks.
Compensation Stability Compensation is contingent on hours worked. Compensation is not contingent on hours worked.

To learn more about Rhode Island labor laws, you can access our informative guides on understanding your rights as a salaried employee in Rhode Island and discovering how to run payroll in Rhode Island.

Wage and Hour Regulations in Rhode Island

What are the Maximum Weekly Working Hours in Rhode Island?

Notably, the employment laws at federal and state standards do not establish a fixed maximum number of hours an employee is required to work in a week. Nonetheless, the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) explicitly requires employers to compensate employees for all hours worked beyond 40 hours a week at a rate of one and a half times their regular hourly pay. Hence, a work week would typically consist of 40 hours.

Furthermore, it’s important to note that certain employees are not subject to minimum wage and overtime laws by default under federal and state requirements depending on their particular job roles.

What is the Minimum Wage for Hourly Employees in Rhode Island?

The phrase “minimum wage” denotes the lowest hourly pay rate that workers can earn for their labor. Although the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) governs federal wage standards, individual states retain the authority to establish a higher minimum wage. In the state of Rhode Island, as of January 1st 2024, the minimum wage is set at $14.00 per hour.
Therefore, in compliance with Rhode Island’s minimum wage statute, a typical hourly employee in the state is expected to earn a minimum of $520 in a regular 40-hour week.

Do All Employees Earn the Minimum Wage in Rhode Island?

Although certain employees reserve the right to receive the state’s mandated minimum hourly wage, it is essential to acknowledge that both federal and state laws provide legal exemptions for particular categories of employees from the state minimum wage and overtime obligations. These employees are as follows:

  • Tipped Employees: Employees who earn tips may receive a lower cash minimum wage than the state’s minimum wage, as long as the tips when added with the hourly wage equals to the state’s minimum wage of $14.00.
  • Full-time students: High school or college students who work on a part-time basis may earn 90% of Rhode Island’s minimum hourly wage, for up to 20 hours of work in a week.
  • Employees below 20 years old: Federal law requirements permit employees below the age of 20 to earn 75% of the state’s minimum hourly wage.
  • White-collar employees (i.e. bona fide executives, administrative workers, and professionals)
  • Outside salespeople
  • Taxi cab operators
  • Individuals employed in domestic service or in or about private homes
  • Individuals employed by the US government or state services
  • Newspaper deliverers
  • Individuals voluntarily engaged in the activities of educational, charitable, religious, and nonprofit organizations
  • Shoe shiners
  • Caddies on golf courses
  • Pin persons in bowling alleys
  • Ushers in theaters
  • Traveling salespeople
  • Workers under 21 who are employed by their parents
  • Resort establishment workers, between May 1 and October 1 – provided the institution isn’t open for business more than 6 months in a year
  • Organized camp workers – provided the camp isn’t open for business more than 7 months in a year

How Many Hours Qualify As Overtime and What is the Associated Pay in Rhode Island?

The federal overtime laws stipulate that all employees who put in more than 40 weekly hours are entitled to be paid an overtime rate of one and a half times their regular rate of pay. Therefore, a Rhode Island hourly worker usually earns an overtime pay rate of $21 per hour.

Do All Employees Earn Overtime Pay in Rhode Island?

Apart from the employees mentioned previously, Rhode Island laws also grant overtime exemptions to the following categories of employees. Employers are still obligated to comply with minimum wage requirements when compensating these individuals. These excluded employees include:

  • Any summer camp employee provided the summer camp is not open more than six (6) months of the year.
  • Police officers.
  • Any salaried employee of a nonprofit national voluntary health agency who elects to receive compensatory time off for hours worked in excess of 40 hours per week.
    any employee, including drivers, driver’s helpers, mechanics, and loaders of any motor carrier, including private carriers, with respect to whom the U.S. secretary of transportation has power to establish qualifications and maximum hours of service pursuant to the provisions of 49 U.S.C. § 3102.
  • Any employee who is a salesperson, parts person, or mechanic primarily engaged in the sale and/or servicing of automobiles, trucks or farm implements, and is employed by a non-manufacturing employer primarily engaged in the business of selling vehicles or farm implements to ultimate purchasers, to the extent that the employers are exempt under the federal Wage-Hour and Equal Pay Act, 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq. and 29 U.S.C. § 213(b)(10); provided, that the employee’s weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly actual earnings exceed an amount equal to the employee’s basic contractual hourly rate of pay times the number of hours actually worked plus the employee’s basic contractual hourly rate of pay times one-half ( 1/2) the number of hours actually worked in excess of forty (40) hours per week.
  • Any employee of an air carrier subject to the provisions of title 45 U.S.C. § 181 et seq., of the Railway Labor Act when the hours worked by such employee in excess of 40 in a work week are not required by the air carrier, but are arranged through a voluntary agreement among employees to trade scheduled work hours.
  • Any employee employed in agriculture; however, this exemption applies to all agricultural enterprises that produce greenhouse crops, fruit and vegetable crops, herbaceous crops, sod crops, viticulture, viniculture, floriculture, feed for livestock, forestry, dairy farming, aquaculture, the raising of livestock, furbearing animals, poultry and eggs, bees and honey, mushrooms, and nursery stock. This exemption also applies to nursery workers.
  • Employees of the state or political subdivision of the state who may elect through a collective bargaining agreement, memorandum of understanding, or any other agreement between the employer and representatives of the employees, or if the employees are not represented by an exclusive bargaining agent, through an agreement or understanding arrived at between the employer and the employee prior to the performance of work, to receive compensatory time off for hours worked in excess of 40 in a week. The compensatory hours shall at least equal one and one half times the hours worked over 40 in a week. If compensation is paid to an employee for accrued compensatory time, the compensation shall be paid at the regular rate earned by the employee at the time of payment. At the time of termination, unused accrued compensatory time shall be paid at a rate not less than; the average regular rate received by the employee during the last three (3) years of the employee’s employment; or the final regular rate received by the employee, whichever is higher.

Rest Laws in Rhode Island

What are the Offered Meal and Rest Breaks for Hourly Employees in Rhode Island?

While some U.S. states have no particular laws of their own that regulate rest and meal breaks, the statutory laws of Rhode Island explicitly require employees to be given a 20 minute meal break for a 6-hour shift and a 30 minute meal break for an 8-hour shift. However, these provisions are inapplicable to healthcare employers and those with less than 3 employees. 

Additionally, employers with four or more employees are required to provide nursing employees with a reasonable break to express milk in a private non-bathroom space. Whenever possible, this break must align with any other scheduled breaks. However, providing such breaks are not mandatory if it causes undue hardship for the employer.

What Laws Govern Time Off and Leaves for Hourly Employees in Rhode Island?

  • Healthy and Safe Families and Workplaces Act: According to this Act, employees hired by employers with a minimum of 18 employees must be permitted to accrue an hour’s worth of paid sick leave for every 35 hours worked. Furthermore, in the year 2019, employees were able to receive up to a maximum of 32 hours of paid time off and 40 hours in the subsequent years.
  • Parental and Family Medical Leave Act: According to this Act, employees working for employers with more than 50 employees are entitled to 13 weeks of unpaid leave in any two calendar years. This leave can be taken for reasons related to childbirth, adopting a child aged 16 or younger, a serious illness affecting the employee or their parent, spouse, child, mother-in-law, or father-in-law.

Deductions, Benefits, and Protections in Rhode Island

What are the Laws Regarding Pay Deductions for Hourly Employees in Rhode Island?

An employer may withhold a portion of an employee’s wages for a variety of purposes such as for paying taxes, garnishments and benefits, like health insurance. However, accurate payroll deductions can be quite complex in procedure due to the relevance that federal and state laws have in their applicability in this regard. 

In Rhode Island, state statutory laws prohibit an employer from deducting an employee’s wages without their prior written consent. Deductions from an employee’s paycheck are only permitted with written authorization and may include the following items:

  • Trade union or craft dues or other obligations enforced by a collective bargaining agreement; 
  • Subscriptions to a nonprofit hospital service corporation or nonprofit medical and/or surgical service corporation;
  • Donations to religious, charitable, scientific, literary, or educational corporation, trust, community chest fund, or foundation; 
  • Payments intended for the purchasing of obligations of the United States or stock of a corporation pursuant to an employee stock purchase plan; 
  • Contributions to a pension plan in which the employee is a participant not required by a collective bargaining agreement entered into between the authorized collective bargaining representative of an employee and his or her employer; 
  • Contributions to or for insurance or under an insurance plan for accident, health, or life coverage not required by a collective bargaining agreement entered into between the authorized collective bargaining representative of an employee and his or her employer; 
  • Amounts to be credited to a share, deposit, or loan account in any credit union; contributions, subscriptions, or payments of a similar nature not connected with past or present indebtedness; or
  • Contributions, subscriptions, or payments of a similar nature not connected with past or present indebtedness; or
  • Payments for participation in a van pool transportation system where employee participation in the program is not a condition of employment.

Furthermore, an employer is disallowed from retaining or deducting any part of an employee’s wages for:

  • cash shortages,
  • breakage, damage, or loss of employer’s property,
  • uniforms,
  • tools, or
  • other necessary items

What are the Provided Hourly Employees Entitlements Under Rhode Island State Law?

  • Minimum wage: Rhode Island employees are legally entitled to earn the state’s current minimum wage of $14.00 per hour. 
  • Overtime: Federal and state laws mandate employers to compensate non-exempt employees for working any hours over 40 hours in a week at a fixed pay rate of one and a half times an employee’s standard hourly pay.
  • Worker’s compensation insurance: According to Rhode Island law, employers with one or more employees are required to provide workers’ compensation insurance. This type of insurance helps employees cover the cost of medical bills, rehabilitation expenses and lost wages from the work-related injuries or illnesses that they have sustained arising from the course of their employment.
  • Unemployment insurance benefits: Unemployment insurance benefits are intended to temporarily provide income to individuals who have lost work without fault of their own. These benefits aim to partially offset the loss of wages while the unemployed individual searches for work until they are rehired. Employees do not contribute anything from their paycheck for this coverage. Furthermore, these benefits are administered by the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training.
  • Extended health insurance benefits: The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) is a federal law that permits employees to continue their health insurance benefits after the end of their employment. Since the federal COBRA is only applicable to employers with 20 or more employees, many U.S. states have made their own version of the law, typically referred to as “mini-COBRAs”. Rhode Island’s mini-COBRA allows employees to continue their health coverage benefits for up to 18 months. Furthermore, employers are mandated to post a notice of the COBRA rights of employees in a conspicuous location.
  • Other obligatory time-off provisions: These include holiday leaves, time off for jury duty, school duty leave, witness  leave, leaves for crime victims and military leave.

What are the Provided Hourly Employee Protections Under Rhode Island State Law?

  • Social media protection laws: Rhode Island’s employment laws prohibit employers from requesting access to an employee or job applicant’s private social media accounts. Moreover, employers cannot require employees to connect with particular business contacts, promote the business on their personal accounts, or disclose their login details or other identifying credentials.
  • Whistleblower protection laws: It is illegal for Rhode Island employers to terminate or discriminate employees for the following actions: reporting a genuine violation of state, federal or local laws or regulations; partaking in an investigation or proceeding; refusing to participate in an activity that contravenes state, federal or local laws.
  • Polygraph testing protection laws: Rhode Island laws prohibit employers from using polygraphs or any other types of ‘lie detector tests’ as a condition of employment or continued employment. Furthermore, written examinations designed to detect deception may be used, but the results should not be the primary factor in making an employment decision.
  • Employee monitoring protection laws: In Rhode Island, employers are prohibited from listening or recording their employees’ wire communications except in limited situations, such as if prior consent has been given by at least one party to the communication. Employers are also prohibited from monitoring their employees in places that are designated to change clothes such as restrooms or locker rooms. Furthermore, the installation of GPS tracking devices in motor vehicles is strictly forbidden unless consent from all parties involved has been sought.
  • Genetic testing protection laws: Rhode Island’s statutory laws prohibit employers from:
    • Requesting, requiring, or conducting genetic tests on employees, licensees, or job applicants for employment purposes.
    • Taking adverse personnel or licensing actions due an individual’s refusal to undergo genetic testing or disclose genetic information.
    • Using genetic information for discriminatory purposes in employment or licensing decisions.
    • Disclosing genetic information about employees, licensees, or applicants.

Termination of Employment in Rhode Island

What are the Termination Laws for Hourly Employees in Rhode Island?

Rhode Island, like numerous other U.S. states, complies with the employment-at-will regulations. This generally implies that both the employer and employee reserve the autonomy to end the employment partnership whenever they choose, without the obligation to disclose their specific motives for doing so. Notwithstanding the general applicability of these laws, there exist specific circumstances where an employer’s capacity to terminate an employment arrangement is restricted, and these exceptions are as follows:

  1. Breach of contract: The existence of an employment contract restricts an employer’s broad discretionary power to terminate employees, as they no longer acquire the legal right to terminate an employee if it violates the terms outlined in the contract. Employers who breach the contractual stipulations could face legal consequences. Furthermore, in the state of Rhode Island, the contract must be in writing for its terms to be legally effective
  2. Public policy: Under the public policy exception, employers are forbidden from requiring employees to engage in activities that contradict the general public interest or violate federal and state laws. For example, employers cannot terminate employees for fulfilling public duties like serving their jury duty or taking military leave.
  3. Retaliation: According to the Rhode Island Whistleblowers’ Protection Act, employers have no legal right to terminate employees who have reported legal violations in the workplace. This encompasses situations in which an employee reports to law enforcement officials or other state or federal authorities about concerns pertaining to occupational health and safety, mishandling of hazardous materials, breaches of minimum wage or overtime requirements, workers’ compensation claims, incidents of discrimination and/or wage discrimination. For instance, it is prohibited to terminate an employee for reporting to appropriate authorities that a company is in breach of minimum wage laws.
  4. Discrimination: In Rhode Island, the State Fair Employment Practices Act protects employees from employment discrimination. Under this Act, it is illegal for employers to terminate employees for their race or color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, disability, age, or country of ancestral origin. Furthermore, the Act also prohibits terminating employees who participate in an official investigation or in a public hearing.

Moreover, employees who have been separated from their job, whether through termination, resignation, or layoffs, must receive their final paychecks by the next scheduled payday. However, should the business of the employer be liquidated, merged, closed, or relocated out of state, terminated employees must then be given their final paychecks within 24 hours.

Should Severance Pay Be Provided to Hourly Employees in Rhode Island?

Severance fee is the monetary compensation provided by an employer to an employee upon the separation of their employment. Typically, the pay is determined by the employee’s tenure with the company and is intended to financially support unemployed employees during the period when they are actively looking for a new job.

Nonetheless, although severance pay is an advantageous benefit to employees, employers in Rhode Island are under no legal obligation, at both state and federal standards, to furnish employees with such payments. Rather, severance pay is a matter of agreement between an employer and an employee. Hence, employers are only required to offer severance pay if the written terms of the collective bargaining agreement or employment contract obliges them to do so.

Final Thoughts

To sum up, knowing your rights as an hourly employee is paramount in ensuring fair treatment, proper compensation and legal protection from workplace exploitations within the employment sphere.

Furthermore, staying in line with the recent developments in employment laws steers employees through the complexities of the evolving labor landscape, emboldening them to advocate for their rights and maintain a safe and just work environment.

Important Cautionary Note

This content is provided for informational purposes only. While we make every effort to ensure the accuracy of the information presented, we cannot guarantee that it is free of errors or omissions. Users are advised to independently verify any critical information and should not solely rely on the content provided.