Rhode Island has amended the Payment of Wages Act to target wage theft by imposing criminal liability for certain wage and hour violations by employers. Now, employers who “knowingly and willfully” fail to pay wages over $1,500 may face up to three years of imprisonment, a fine up to $5,000, or both.
The law also targets misclassification of workers as independent contractors (particularly in the construction industry) by deeming an employer liable for a civic penalty for each misclassified employee. For a first offense, an employer must pay between $1,500 and $3,000 per misclassified employee. Employers will then be required to pay up to $5,000 per employee for any subsequent violation.
Additionally, the amendment states that in cases where the unpaid wages are $1,500 or less, the employer will be charged with a misdemeanor, facing up to a year in jail, a fine up to $1,000, or both. If an employer again breaches this law with unpaid wages exceeding $1,500, they will be charged with a felony, which includes up to three years of imprisonment, a fine up to $5,000, or both.
This law will take effect on January 1, 2024.