Minimum Wage

Federal law sets a minimum wage, the lowest hourly rate that non-exempt employees can be paid. Many states have higher minimum wages, which may depend upon the industry, type of job worked, and city or geographic location. California’s statewide minimum wage is $12 per hour for small employers and $13 for large employers, although several cities and counties have higher minimum wages. In New York, the minimum wage for non-tipped employees ranges from $11.80 in upstate New York to $13 in Westchester and Long Island and $15 in New York City, with slightly different rates for fast food employees.

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There are many factors that affect whether a specific worker is entitled to minimum wage, and different workers may be owed wages at different rates. In most states, workers who receive tips may be paid a lower hourly rate if they earn enough in tips to reach the regular minimum wage and their employer fulfills certain conditions. Employees who are “exempt,” that is, who meet certain pay and job duty requirements, do not need to be paid the minimum wage but may still have a minimum salary. Independent contractors similarly do not need to be paid minimum wage, but the tests for determining whether someone is truly an independent contractor are very strict.

This page is intended as a summary of information to give you a sense of whether you may be owed minimum wage. If you think you may be owed any unpaid minimum wage, you should contact experienced wage and hour attorneys to discuss your individual situation. The attorneys at Pelton Graham LLC have extensive experience with unpaid minimum wage and other wage and hour matters and are happy to talk through your situation in a free consultation through the form on this website or by phone at (212) 385-9700. There is no obligation, and we only get paid if you recover!


A Quick Summary on Minimum Wage Law

The federal minimum wage rate is currently $7.25 per hour for non-tipped employees. In states that do not have a higher minimum wage rate, this is the lowest rate that non-exempt, non-tipped employees can be paid. Some states are working to increase minimum wage rates to $15 per hour for many if not all industries over the next several years.

Federal law and the law of many states permit employers to pay a lower minimum wage to tipped workers, such as restaurant servers, but have strict requirements for when employers can pay these lower rates. Find more information about tipped workers and the minimum wage.

Find out more information about exemptions and independent contractors. Exempt employees often are required to be paid a minimum weekly salary in order to be correctly classified as exempt. There typically are no pay requirements for independent contractors. However, federal and state laws set forth certain “tests” to determine whether a worker should be considered exempt, non-exempt or an independent contractor. These classifications are not based on job titles or the way a business classifies its workers.

Understanding minimum wage can be important when calculating whether and how much someone may be owed overtime. Find out more on unpaid overtime and an overtime calculator.

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How much is the minimum wage?

The federal minimum wage for non-tipped employees is currently $7.25. The federal minimum wage for tipped employees is $2.13.

Many states and some cities and counties around the country have higher minimum and tipped minimum wage rates. See below for more information on New York, California and select other local minimum wage rates.

Find out more information on tipped employees and the tipped minimum wage.

What deductions and expenses can I be required to pay?

Employers are not permitted to take deductions from an employee’s wages or require an employee to pay for certain business expenses if such deductions or expenses effectively reduce the employee’s wages below the minimum wage or overtime requirements.

Some states, including New York, are extremely specific about the types of deductions that employers may take from an employee’s wages. In general, these deductions must be taken for the benefit of the employee (such as pension, health care), not the employer. Kickbacks, or payments employees must make to employers out of, are illegal under New York state law.

New York state also contains detailed rules for what types of uniform expenses and uniform maintenance expenses (dry-cleaning) an employer can require an employee to spend and what types of costs an employer must compensate.

How much can I recover?

If you are a non-exempt worker, you are entitled to recover the difference between your hourly rate and the minimum wage in effect during the period of time when you worked. For example, if the minimum wage in your area is $10 per hour for your industry and position but you are only paid $7 per hour, you are entitled to recover $3 for each hour worked.

If you worked over 40 hours per week, you are entitled to receive overtime at a rate no lower than 1.5 times the minimum wage rate. In the above example, if you are paid $7 per hour and work 50 hours of work, you are entitled to recover a total of $200 per week: $120 ($3 per hour times 40 hours) plus $80 ($15-$7 for $8 per hour times 10 hours). Find out more about a detailed overtime calculator, including tipped overtime.

If your employer required you to pay business expenses, such as equipment or losses, that reduced your effective hourly rate below the minimum wage rate over a workweek, you are entitled to recover the difference between your effective hourly rate and the minimum wage rate. For example, a bicycle delivery employee who is paid minimum wage and is required to spend $20 per week out of pocket on repairs and maintenance is entitled to recover the $20 per week. The law considers that, since he is required to spend money for his employer, he is entitled to recover that expense to the extent that it causes his wages to fall below the minimum wage.

Under federal law, employees can recover for 2 or 3 years of unpaid wages. Some states have longer recovery periods. In New York, employees can recover for 6 years of unpaid wages.

In addition to unpaid wages, federal law permits employees to recover “double damages” under some circumstances where the court determines that an employer acted in bad faith in not paying minimum wage.

Minimum Wage Rates

New York Minimum Wage Rates:

Prior to 2016, minimum wage rates were the same across all locations and non-exempt, not-tipped positions.​

Since 2017, the minimum wage rate has depended upon several factors, including geographic location, size of employer and industry. New York is one of the states that is gradually increasing minimum wage rates to $15 per hour.  The rate of increases depends upon the type of employer and geographic location.  Currently there are no increases scheduled beyond $15 per hour.

New York City:

  • Fast Food Employees: $12 in 2017, $13.50 in 2018, $15 in 2019 and beyond
  • Large Employers (11 or more employees): $11 in 2017, $13 in 2018, $15 in 2019 and beyond
  • Small Employer (10 or fewer employees): $10.50 in 2017, $12 in 2018, $13.50 in 2019, $15 in 2020 and beyond

Long Island and Westchester:

  • Fast food Employees: $10.75 in 2017, $11.75 in 2018, $12.75 in 2019, $13.75 in 2020, $14.50 in 2021, $15 as of July 1, 2021
  • All Non-Fast Food Employees: $10 in 2017, $11 in 2019, $12 in 2019, $13 in 2020, $14 in 2021, $15 from 2021 and beyond

All Other Locations in New York State:

  • Fast food Employees: $10.75 in 2017, $11.75 in 2018, $12.75 in 2019, $13.75 in 2020, $14.50 in 2021, $15 as of July 1, 2021,
  • All Non-Fast Food Employees: $9.70 in 2017, $10.40 in 2018, $11.10 in 2019, $11.80 in 2020, $12.50 in 2012 with additional yearly increases to be established by the Department of Labor

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