Rhode Island Overtime Laws

April 16th 2024

Rhode Island overtime laws provide important protections for employees in the state regarding their work hours and compensation. Under the Rhode Island Labor Law, employees are entitled to receive overtime pay for any hours worked beyond a certain threshold in a workweek.

This article will provide information to successfully navigate Rhode Island’s overtime regulations, whether you’re an employer aiming for compliance or an employee defending your rights.

This article covers:

Rhode Island Overtime Rates

Rhode Island’s overtime law mandates that employees who work more than the standard 40-hour workweek are entitled to receive overtime compensation at a rate of one and a half times their regular pay for each additional hour worked. This provision aims to ensure that employees are appropriately compensated for their extra efforts and discourages employers from taking advantage of their workforce.

Since the regular minimum wage in Rhode Island is $14.00 per hour, Rhode Island’s overtime minimum rate is $21.00 per hour. 

Overtime Entitlement in Rhode Island

According to Rhode Island overtime laws, overtime pay is required for any non-exempt employees.

Employees who earn below $684 a week ($35,568 annually) and work in a non-exempt industry are entitled to overtime pay.

However, your overall eligibility for overtime pay will be based on what your job duties are as well as what type of business you are in.

Read more about Overtime Exceptions and Exemptions in Rhode Island.

Compensatory Time in Rhode Island

In Rhode Island, state or local government employees can choose compensatory time off, or “comp time”, instead of overtime pay. Comp time is provided through a collective bargaining agreement or other agreements with their employer. Comp time must be provided at one and a half times the regular rate for hours worked over 40 a week. 

Upon termination, any unused comp time must be paid out at a rate not less than:

  • The employee’s average regular rate of pay over the final three (3) years of their employment period.
  • The employee’s final regular rate of pay or the average regular rate received by the employee; whichever is greater.

Overtime for Nurses in Rhode Island

In Rhode Island, a hospital is not allowed to force certain nurses and certified nurse assistants to work overtime. However, it is important to note that there are no state laws that limit a nurse from voluntary overtime.

Here are the conditions for nurses regarding overtime:

  • Employees cannot be compelled to accept a scheduled shift lasting more than 12 hours.
  • Mandatory overtime cannot be used as a solution for chronic understaffing issues.
  • Employees cannot be compelled to work beyond their scheduled shift, except in the case of an “unforeseeable emergent circumstance.”
  • Employees cannot face disciplinary action for refusing mandatory overtime unless it is due to an “unforeseeable emergent circumstance.”
Unforeseeable Emergent Circumstances

Employers must make reasonable efforts to find additional staff before requiring nurses to work overtime. However, this requirement may be waived in the event of a declared national, state, or municipal emergency or disaster.

The employer must: 

  • Seek volunteers from all qualified staff currently working during the unforeseen emergency.
  • Contact all qualified employees who have made themselves available for extra work.
  • Consider utilizing per diem staff.

Overtime for Tipped Employees in Rhode Island

Employers in Rhode Island have the option to pay tipped employees a minimum hourly wage of $3.89. However, it is crucial that the total earnings, including tips, reach or exceed the regular state minimum wage of $14.00 per hour. If the combined amount of wages and tips fall short of the regular minimum wage, the employer is obligated to compensate the employee for the difference.

Most tipped employees are eligible for overtime pay if they work more than a specific number of hours in a week. Overtime hours are compensated at 1.5 times the employee’s regular hourly wage. Their overtime rate must be determined based on the full minimum wage, rather than the lower cash wage provided by the employer. 

Overtime Exceptions and Exemptions in Rhode Island

In Rhode Island, there are specific groups of workers that are exempt from receiving overtime pay. The exemption pertains to individuals employed in executive, administrative, or professional positions, as outlined by the Fair Labor Standards Act. To qualify for this exemption, these employees must receive a weekly salary of no less than $684. 

Other exemptions include:

  • An employee who works at a seasonal summer camp that operates for a maximum duration of 6 months each year is included in this category.
  • Police officers.
  • Salaried employees of a nonprofit national voluntary health agency opt for receiving additional time off instead of overtime pay when they work beyond 40 hours in a week.
  • Employees, such as drivers, helpers, mechanics, and loaders, of any motor carrier (including private carriers) who are under the authority of the United States Secretary of Transportation.
  • Salespersons, parts persons, or mechanics primarily engaged in selling and servicing vehicles or farm implements for non-manufacturing employers.
  • Salespersons, parts persons, or mechanics primarily engaged in selling and servicing vehicles or farm implements for non-manufacturing employers. 
  • Employees in the agricultural sector, including greenhouse crop production, fruit and vegetable farming, forestry, dairy farming, and nursery workers.
  • Employees of an air carrier who fall under the Railway Labor Act.

Statute of Limitations For Unpaid Overtime Claims in Rhode Island

In Rhode Island, there are specific time limits to consider when filing a claim for unpaid overtime. Typically, the statute of limitations for overtime claims is two years. However, if it can be proven that an employer intentionally and knowingly violated the law by withholding payment for the overtime hours worked, the statute of limitations is extended to three years. This gives you a longer window of opportunity to pursue legal action against your employer and pursue the rightful compensation for the unpaid overtime wages you are owed.

Penalties for Violating Overtime Law in Rhode Island

Employers in Rhode Island who do not comply with regulations regarding overtime wages may face potential consequences. They could be held accountable for paying employees twice the amount of unpaid wages, along with additional expenses and legal fees. Employees can file lawsuits, either as a class action or on behalf of multiple employees, to address instances where others have been subjected to the same violations.

Legal Cases Relating to Overtime Compensation in Rhode Island

Below, we present law cases relating to fair overtime compensation for employees in Rhode Island: 

1. Employee Owed Overtime Wages After Being Misclassified as an Independent Contractor

In the case of Sebren v. Harrison, Sarah Sebren filed a lawsuit under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the Rhode Island Minimum Wage Act (RIMWA), and the Rhode Island Payment of Wages Act (RIPWA). Sarah Sebren initially worked as a secretary/assistant and later became an attorney at the firm. 

Sebren alleged that Harrison misclassified her as an independent contractor instead of an employee, resulting in unpaid minimum wages and overtime premiums. However, Harrison argued that Sebren stole a client’s file and breached her contract by taking the client to her law practice after leaving Harrison’s company.

The court found that Sebren was misclassified as an independent contractor before her admission to the bar, and Harrison failed to pay her as an employee. However, the court denied summary judgment on the calculation of damages, as there were genuine disputes of fact regarding the number of unpaid hours and overtime worked by Sebren. The court also imposed a penalty of $3,000 on Harrison for misclassification violations under the RIPWA.

Regarding Harrison’s argument, the court granted summary judgment to Sebren on the claim of theft of the client file and settlement without permission. In summary, Harrison was ordered to pay a penalty for misclassification violations. Sebren was granted summary judgment on most of Harrison’s counterclaims, but there were unresolved issues related to the contingency fee.

Key lessons from this case:

  • Courts often rely on evidence provided by both parties to determine the appropriate amount of damages.
  • Employers should properly assess the nature of the working relationship to determine the appropriate classification.
  • Even if summary judgment is granted on some claims, there may still be unresolved issues that require further litigation or negotiation.
2. Employees Awarded with Damages in Overtime Lawsuit After Employer Failed to Provide Documentation

In the case of Sigui v. M + M Communications, Inc., a jury found the M + M Communications, Inc. and M & M Corporation LA, Inc. (M & M), guilty of violating the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the Rhode Island Minimum Wage Act (RIMWA), and the Rhode Island Payment of Wages Act (RIPWA). The jury also determined that these violations were willful. 

The jury specified the number of unpaid hours for each employee, including unpaid regular hours, unpaid overtime hours, and minimum shift unpaid hours. The court invited both parties to provide documents on the calculation of damages. While the employees provided a comprehensive document, M & M did not provide any such document or oppose the employees’ calculations.

The Court agreed with the employees’ calculations of compensatory damages. They had determined the amount of damages based on the hours awarded by the jury and multiplied them by the stipulated regular hourly rate. The court agreed with the plaintiffs’ calculations for compensatory damages, prejudgment interest, liquidated damages, and misclassification penalties. 

The court ultimately awarded the plaintiffs amounts for compensatory damages, prejudgment interest, and liquidated damages. The court also imposed additional penalties on M & M for misclassification violations. The judgment was entered in favor of the employees, and the penalties will be divided between the employees and the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training.

Key lessons from this case:

  • The jury determined the precise number of unpaid hours for each employee based on the evidence presented. It highlights the importance of maintaining accurate and detailed records of employee work hours and wages.
  • It is important to provide comprehensive documents and calculations to support claims and facilitate accurate determination of damages.
  • Employers should actively participate in legal proceedings and present their arguments and evidence to challenge or dispute the claims made against them.
3. Restaurant Owner Did Not Deny Unpaid Overtime Wages in Lawsuit

In the case of Guarcas v. Gourmet Heaven, LLC., employees of Gourmet Heaven filed a lawsuit against Chung Cho, the owner and operator of Gourmet Heaven. The employees alleged violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and the Rhode Island Minimum Wage Act (RIMWA). 

The employees worked as hourly employees at Gourmet Heaven and performed tasks such as stocking shelves and preparing food. They were paid through a combination of payroll checks and cash. The employees claimed that Cho violated the FLSA and RIMWA by failing to pay them the required minimum wage and overtime compensation. They sought damages for unpaid wages, liquidated damages, and reasonable attorneys’ fees.

The defendant did not file an opposition to the motion. Because of that, the court determined the employees’ factual allegations were “admitted” because Cho did not contest or deny them. After reviewing the evidence, the court found that the employees worked more than forty hours per week and were paid amounts in cash that did not comply with the requirements of the FLSA and RIMWA. Therefore, judgment was entered in favor of the employees. However, the court noted that the employees can only recover damages under either the FLSA or the RIMWA, not both.

The employees were entitled to damages for unpaid wages and liquidated damages under the FLSA. They are also entitled to reasonable attorneys’ fees. However, the employees needed to provide additional information regarding their fee requests. The court granted the employees’ motion for summary judgment.

Key lessons from this case:

  • Employers who pay less than minimum wage or fail to pay overtime compensation are liable for compensatory damages and liquidated damages.
  • If an employer fails to dispute or deny factual allegations made by the employees in an overtime lawsuit, those facts are deemed admitted by the court. This means that the facts are considered to be “true”.
  • Additional fee requests made by an employee in a lawsuit need to be backed with documentary evidence.

Learn more about Rhode Island Labor Laws through our detailed guide.

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.