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More than 569,000 people work in Rhode Island. Many individuals are employed in the healthcare, education, and retail trade sectors. Along with this growing workforce, there are multiple challenges present for people who care, teach, or sell; one of these is workplace discrimination. 

This issue has been growing. In 2022, claims before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission totaled 186. This figure represents a 272% increase from the 50 cases filed in 2021. 

There are many forms of discrimination that Rhode Island workers face. In one incident, an East Providence-based cleaning company rescinded a job offer from a worker after she told a manager about her pregnancy. She was awarded $50,000 in damages. 

In another case, a jury found a town guilty of discrimination against an employee. She was fired when she tried to return to work after her maternity leave. As a result of her termination, the town faces an $800,000 judgment. 

Other workers in Rhode Island face different problems, like anti-union activities from their employers. Workers in a Portsmouth-based cannabis store, for example, saw benefits like employee discounts eliminated. They also experienced surveillance and interrogation from their employers because of union activities. 

The union representing the workers filed a complaint before the National Labor Relations Board. In turn, the federal agency issued complaints against the store. A settlement was reached between the store and the workers, wherein they will receive their benefits back.

Remember that there is a difference between employment and labor law. The former refers to rules governing the relationship between employers and employees. Meanwhile, the latter deals with issues involving labor unions and their rights. 

This article touches on those rules. It provides information on different topics, including minimum wage laws and labor union rights. It also discusses wrongful termination and the damages plaintiffs can receive. 

Rhode Island Minimum Wage and Hour Laws

Minimum Wage

The minimum wage is $13 per hour in Rhode Island. This rate is bound to increase to $14 in 2024 and $15 in 2025. Note that several workers are exempted from these regulations. These individuals include:

  • Theater ushers. 

  • Domestic workers.

  • Shoe shine persons. 

  • Outside salespersons. 

  • Volunteers in nonprofit organizations.

  • Newspaper carriers that work on home delivery routes. 

Tipped workers are likewise exempt from the minimum wage. Their employers must pay at least $3.89 hourly. However, if the tipped worker cannot earn enough to reach the state minimum wage, their employer needs to compensate for the difference.  

The act of failing to compensate workers for their labor is wage theft. This practice is illegal. To report an employer, a person may fill out and submit a complaint form to the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training. The deadline for such claims is three years from the date earned.  

Penalties for businesses that violate minimum wage laws are severe. Indeed, starting January 2024, employers will face felony charges if they fail to pay over $1,500 in wages on time. These charges can lead to up to $5,000 in fines and a maximum of three years in prison.

Wage Payment

Rhode Island has regulations for when employees are paid. Under state law, employers should pay their workers within nine days of the end of the working period. 

There are also rules in place regarding final pay. For instance, unpaid wages are given to workers on the following scheduled payday. This law applies to individuals who leave their jobs for any reason, including resignation, termination, and redundancy.

Another rule that workers must keep in mind is that all their wages are instantly due within 24 hours of their separation in certain situations. These are: 

  • Business merger. 

  • Business disposal.

  • Business liquidation.

  • Business relocation out of Rhode Island. 

Payroll Deductions

Some deductions are legal. These costs include state and federal taxes, as well as Social Security contributions. Other costs, though, need written authorization from employees. These include payroll advances and loans. Union dues are also allowable deductions if the majority of union members authorize such transactions to occur. 

There are some costs that, under state law, are prohibited from being deducted from pay. These consist of:

  • Uniforms.

  • Losses or shortages. 

  • Penalties for employee tardiness. 

  • Costs associated with breakages or spoilages. 

  • Costs incurred by employees who quit without notice. 

Overtime Rules

The overtime rate in Rhode Island is 1.5 times the regular rate. It applies to employees who work more than 40 hours a week. 

Keep in mind that some individuals are exempt from overtime pay. These workers include: 

  • Police officers. 

  • State legislators.

  • Farm equipment salespersons.

  • Individuals who work at plant nurseries.

  • Executives are compensated at least $200 per week. 

  • Individuals who work at summer camps open at most for six months every year. 

Independent contractors are likewise not eligible for overtime. They, unlike employees, possess the right to dictate how work is delivered. In some cases, individuals work for businesses that control how work is performed. Although they are considered employees by practice, they might be classified as independent contractors by employers, avoiding the payment of benefits. 

This unlawful practice is known as worker misclassification. Individuals who believe they are misclassified can report their employer through a form submitted to the Rhode Island DLT. 

Worker misclassification is a growing problem in the state. In 2022, the penalties imposed on businesses that commit misclassification totaled $663,000. This figure is a 42% increase from 2021. 

Sick and Safe Leaves

Rhode Island law mandates employers with 18 or more employees to provide paid leave. This is given at a rate of one hour per 35 hours worked. The maximum number of hours accessible for employees is 40 hours every year, but businesses can agree on a higher limit. 

Note that employers with fewer than 18 employees do not need to provide paid leave. 

This leave can be used by employees dealing with physical and mental illnesses. It may also be utilized by workers to care for their family members. Leaves are also applicable in cases where the employee’s workplace or their child’s school is closed because of a public health emergency. 

Employees or their family members who are victims of sexual assault, stalking, or domestic violence can likewise take these leaves. 

Laws on Labor Organizations in Rhode Island

Labor organizations, also known as labor unions, are groups formed to achieve the goal of collective bargaining. Such organizations allow members to deal with employers on matters involving employment conditions.

Rhode Island is not a right-to-work state. This means that individuals may be obliged to join a union as a condition for employment. 

The Ocean State also ties with California with the fourth highest percentage of union members in 2022 nationwide, at 16.1%. These members, under Rhode Island law, possess a variety of rights. These range from forming and joining labor organizations to assisting them. The right to strike is also protected. 

Rhode Island Required Posters in Workplaces

Employers are required to place posters in places where all their workers can notice them. Some of these resources include posters that display the following information: 

  • Minimum wage. 

  • Pay Equity Act.

  • Responsibilities of employers in case of workplace-related accidents. 

  • Unemployment insurance and temporary disability insurance benefits. 

Businesses may opt to use a combination poster, which combines all state requirements in a single notice. Keep in mind that this notice does not contain information regarding pay equity. 

Laws on Workplace Discrimination in Rhode Island

State law prohibits discrimination against employees for various reasons. These include: 

  • Sex.

  • Age.

  • Race. 

  • Color. 

  • Religion. 

  • Disability. 

  • Sexual orientation.

  • Country of ancestral origin. 

  • Gender identity or expression.

Another matter that one must know is reasonable accommodation. It refers to changes in job policies or tools in work environments that help employees with disabilities perform their tasks. Screen readers, ergonomic keyboards, and amplified telephones are examples of reasonable accommodations. Modified work schedules similarly assist individuals with disabilities in their jobs. 

Remember that these accommodations are not always provided. Employers can reject requests for tools or policy changes if they prove such modifications pose a hardship for the business.

Is Rhode Island an At-Will Employment State?

Yes, Rhode Island is an at-will state. Employees can quit at any time. Employers may likewise fire their workers for any reason and at any point. However, there are some situations where businesses or organizations cannot terminate their employees. 

One example is discrimination. There is legal protection in place for workers who were fired because of factors like gender identity, religion, sexual orientation, and age.

Another example is breach of contract. Some businesses draft employment agreements for their workers. A lawsuit against these companies is valid if they fire individuals for reasons beyond what their contract states. 

What Qualifies as Wrongful Termination in Rhode Island?

Wrongful termination refers to the situation wherein an employee is fired because of an illegal or unjust reason. One such reason is discrimination. Factors like gender expression, disability, and country of ancestral origin must not be used to justify the termination of an employee. 

There are also other reasons that are illegal under state law. These include:

  • Experiencing wage garnishment because of child support

  • Attending jury duty

  • Filing for workers’ compensation benefits. 

Employees who were fired in retaliation for their actions as whistleblowers can similarly claim wrongful termination. The Rhode Island Whistleblowers’ Protection Act safeguards the rights of such individuals. 

It even extends these protections to non-U.S. citizens. According to Rhode Island law, employers cannot fire these individuals or threaten to report them to local and state police, as well as Immigration and Customs Enforcement. 

In one incident, two whistleblowers brought to light a kickback scheme involving a group of eye care specialists. The owner of a chain of ophthalmology practices throughout Rhode Island was alleged to have paid optometrists for referring patients in need of cataract surgery. Because of their role, the whistleblowers received over $250,000 as part of the settlement agreement. 

There is also the matter of mass layoffs. The state requires businesses with 100 or more full-time employees to submit a notice within 60 days of the layoff date. 

This rule is significant, as Rhode Island has seen its fair share of layoffs. In 2023 alone, companies in the healthcare and manufacturing industries announced job eliminations and plant closures. Around 250 employees in Woonsocket and Warren were affected.

How Do You Report an Employer in Rhode Island for Wrongful Termination?

Employees seeking to report their employer for wrongful termination can file a complaint before the Rhode Island Commission for Human Rights. Note that the time it takes for cases to be resolved depends on factors like complexity. RICHR conducts hearings and conciliation meetings to help both parties come to an agreement.

To file a claim before the agency, you may visit its location in Providence or fill out and email an Employment Discrimination Questionnaire to There are forms for Spanish speakers accessible online. You may also call RICHR at their number, 401-222-2661. 

The other agency that accepts wrongful termination claims is the EEOC. It operates an office in Boston. This location oversees claims from workers in Rhode Island and throughout New England.

EEOC offers a mediation program to assist employers and employees seeking to settle their disputes. This program provides an opportunity for them to discuss their issues and clarify misunderstandings. 

To contact the agency, you can visit its dedicated online portal and schedule an appointment. You may also call 1-800-669-4000 if you encounter difficulties with portal access. 

Since 1968, RICHR has been certified as a Fair Employment Practices Agency by EEOC. This certification means that both agencies work on similar cases. 

Sometimes, though, you may find the decision made by either agency unsatisfactory. As such, you can file a claim before the court. You may also hire an experienced attorney to understand how the process of obtaining damages works. 

What Is the Statute of Limitations for Wrongful Termination Cases in Rhode Island?

The deadline for filing wrongful termination claims varies by agency. For instance, complaints before RICHR need to be submitted within one year from the date of the alleged discrimination. 

Claims before EEOC, meanwhile, are dependent on multiple factors. For example, complaints about discrimination based on color, national origin, sex, religion, disability, or race must be filed within 300 days. This deadline extends to 365 days in cases involving age discrimination. 

There are other cases where the timeframe for filing is different. Whistleblower claims, as an example, have a three-year deadline. On the other hand, lawsuits involving breach of contract must be filed within 10 years. 

How Much Can Someone Sue an Employer in Rhode Island for Wrongful Termination?

Wrongful termination cases can lead to damages for the employee. These damages fall into two broad categories. 

First is compensatory damages. These allow individuals a way to manage economic and non-economic losses, including medical expenses and job search costs. Compensatory damages also help those who suffer mental anguish or a loss of enjoyment in life.

Punitive damages are in the second category. These refer to awards given to plaintiffs by courts looking to punish defendants. Such damages are given if the employee can prove their employer’s conduct was malicious, reckless, or callous. 

There are no caps on compensatory and punitive damages one can generally receive in a Rhode Island case. However, some exceptions are present. Damages for claims against government agencies, for instance, are limited to $100,000

EEOC also places caps depending on the size of businesses. These limits are:

Employee Headcount

Damages Caps

15 to 100


101 to 200


201 to 500


Over 500


Resources for Employees in Rhode Island

The resources below link to state agencies that provide a variety of solutions for employees in Rhode Island. These solutions consist of job search assistance and unemployment insurance benefits. There is also a resource that leads to a non-profit organization that delivers coaching help for individuals interested in upward economic mobility. 

Skills for Rhode Island’s Future

Skills for Rhode Island’s Future provides multiple services for newly unemployed individuals looking to find work. One of these solutions is a Job Board. It delivers a list of employment opportunities in different sectors, including manufacturing, transportation, IT, and healthcare. The organization also offers Career Coaching services. Individuals can request a one-hour session to help them with matters related to interviews and resumes. To contact the organization, call 401-680-5960 or fill out an online form

Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training

The Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training handles workforce development and protection programs, like unemployment insurance benefits. The organization also manages the Reemployment Services and Eligibility Assessment program. Alternatively known as RESEA, it allows eligible participants to access a range of services, from assistance in resume building and interviewing to help with reviewing job leads. In addition, the organization runs reduced-cost or free job training programs. Through these, individuals learn skills related to aquaculture, biotech, nursing, dentistry, and hospitality. To contact the organization, Rhode Islanders can call 401-415-6772. 

Rhode Island Department of Human Services

The Rhode Island Department of Human Services aims to help individuals throughout the state thrive in their communities, workplaces, and homes through various solutions. These include the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP. It provides a way for eligible participants to access grants and resolve crises caused by the failure to pay heating-related bills. 

The organization also offers Rhode Island Works, a financial assistance program targeted at parents with little to no income. These individuals can obtain educational and transportation services delivered to help them achieve long-term stability. For those seeking to contact the organization, they may call 1-855-697-4347.

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