By C. Alexander Chiulli

As employment lawyers, we are often asked questions related to the classification of employees as exempt versus non-exempt, as well as for guidance in navigating the many federal and state laws and regulations concerning the payment of wages to employees. Rhode Island employers should regularly review their wage and hour practices to ensure compliance with the ever-changing legal landscape relative to these issues. The following reminders highlight aspects of federal and state wage and hour laws and regulations that employers should take into careful consideration.

Major Changes to Federal Overtime Regulations. With few exceptions, hourly workers must be paid time and one-half their regular pay rate for all hours worked over forty in a workweek as well as for time worked on Sundays and holidays. This rule does not apply, however, to certain exempt employees, such as those holding executive, administrative, or professional positions as defined under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, so long as they are paid a minimum base salary. Starting December 1, 2016, the United States Department of Labor (“DOL”) will significantly increase the minimum salary for many exempt employees, such that most workers earning $47,476 or less per year will be eligible for overtime wages. This increase more than doubles the present threshold of $23,660 per year. According to the DOL, the rule change will supply increased pay to approximately 4.2 million workers nationwide upon its implementation. Rhode Island employers should therefore proactively evaluate whether their employees will be exempt or non-exempt from overtime pay in advance of this forthcoming change.

Minimum Wage: Effective since January 1, 2016, Rhode Island’s General Assembly raised the state’s minimum wage to $9.60 per hour. As of January 1, 2017, the minimum wage for employees receiving gratuities will increase to $5.71 per hour. Relatedly, the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training (“DLT”) strictly enforces employers’ compliance with hour and wage laws. Rhode Island employers must consequently pay increased attention to determining and correctly paying employees’ wages.

Timekeeping. The Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training also mandates that records be kept by employers for all employees, whether salaried or not. It is thus essential that employers keep accurate and detailed daily and weekly time records for all employees for no less than three years in order to comply with Rhode Island regulations.

Breaks. Unless subject to an exception, employees must be given a thirty-minute meal period for every eight hours worked and a twenty-minute meal break for every six hours worked. During a regular shift that is less than six hours long, employers are not required to provide coffee or other breaks.

Pay days. Under Rhode Island law, employees must be paid weekly, and pay days must fall within nine days of the end of a payroll period. To be excused from the weekly requirement, employers must file a petition with the DLT. The Director of DLT may then permit payment of employees less frequently under specific circumstances, such as if: (a) the employer’s average payroll exceeds 200% of the state minimum wage; (b) the employer pays wages on a preset date at least twice per month; and (c) the employer provides surety in the amount of the highest biweekly payroll exposure in the preceding year.

It is vitally important for Rhode Island employers to ensure compliance with the various wage and hour laws and regulations, as violations may result in claims or lawsuits by employees, as well as investigations and potential civil money penalties imposed by government agencies. As always, when in doubt, please contact a seasoned professional to assist.

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Avatar About the Author: The Rhode Island Small Business Journal is a printed monthly magazine and an online resource for the aspiring and start-up entrepreneur and small business owner.

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