Labor and Employment Law Overview: Rhode Island

Labor and Employment Law Overview requirements for other states

Federal law and guidance on this subject should be reviewed together with this section.

Author: XpertHR Editorial Team

Summary

  • Rhode Island law prohibits an employer from discriminating and retaliating against employees in a variety of protected classes. See EEO, Diversity and Employee Relations.
  • Rhode Island permits post-offer drug testing, but prohibits lie detector tests. See Recruiting and Hiring.
  • In Rhode Island, there are many requirements relating to minimum wage, overtime, meal and breastfeeding breaks and child labor. See Wage and Hour.
  • Rhode Island has a number of laws that relate to employee pay and benefits, including health care continuation, restrictions on wage deductions, and wage payment and notice requirements. See Pay and Benefits.
  • Under Rhode Island law, employees are entitled to a number of leaves including parental and family medical leave, temporary caregiver leave, military leave, military family leave, pregnancy disability leave, and time off for jury duty and emergency responder service. See Attendance and Leave.
  • Rhode Island law requires an employer to provide a safe working environment for their employees, including training and notification regarding hazardous substances. See Health and Safety.

Introduction to Employment Law in Rhode Island

Rhode Island is generally considered an employee-friendly state.

Select Rhode Island employment requirements are summarized below to help an employer understand the range of employment laws affecting the employer-employee relationship in the state. An employer must comply with both federal and state law.

An employer must also comply with applicable municipal law obligations affecting the employment relationship, in addition to complying with state and federal requirements.

EEO, Diversity and Employee Relations

Key Rhode Island requirements impacting EEO, diversity and employee relations are:

State Fair Employment Practices Act

The State Fair Employment Practices Act (FEPA) applies to most employers and contains an extensive list of protected classes against which an employer is prohibited from discriminating, including:

  • Race, color and country of ancestral origin;
  • Religion;
  • Pregnancy, childbirth and related medical conditions;
  • Disability (physical or mental);
  • Age (40 years of age or older);
  • Sex (including gender identity and expression); and
  • Sexual orientation.

Harassment on the basis of these factors is also a form of illegal discrimination and is prohibited under the FEPA. Rhode Island employers with 50 or more employees must adopt a workplace policy against harassment, and all employers are strongly encouraged to institute sexual harassment training for employees.

The FEPA also prohibits retaliation against a person who opposes, reports or assists another person in opposing unlawful discrimination.

Homeless Bill of Rights

Rhode Island's Homeless Bill of Rights specifically designates the homeless as a protected class for purposes of employment discrimination and harassment, and requires that all homeless persons are to be provided with equal opportunities for employment

Rhode Island Civil Rights Act

The Rhode Island Civil Rights Act (CRA) provides broad protection against all forms of discrimination in all phases of employment. Specifically, the CRA provides that all persons must be treated equally in the enjoyment of all benefits, terms, and conditions of contractual and other relationships, regardless of race, color, religion, sex, disability, age or country of ancestral origin.

While the CRA's discrimination prohibition does not specifically mention the term employment, numerous courts have found that the CRA supports causes of action for discrimination, harassment and retaliation against an employer.

Wage Discrimination Based on Sex

Rhode Island's Wage Discrimination Based on Sex law prohibits an employer from discriminating on the basis of gender in the amount or rate of compensation paid to any employee. An employer is also prohibited from retaliating against any employee who complains about any discriminatory compensation practice, institutes a proceeding, or testifies in any proceeding under the law.

Civil Rights of People with Disabilities

Under Rhode Island's Civil Rights of People with Disabilities law, an employer is prohibited from discriminating against a qualified individual with a disability who, with or without a reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of his or her job, unless an undue hardship exists.

Rhode Island Whistleblowers' Protection Act

Under the Rhode Island Whistleblowers' Protection Act, an employer may not penalize or take any adverse employment action against an employee for reporting the employer's violation or suspected violation of the law, or for cooperating in an investigation, hearing or inquiry into alleged legal violations, unless the employee knows or has reason to know that the alleged violation is false.

Prevention and Suppression of Contagious Diseases - HIV/AIDS

Under Rhode Island's health and safety laws, a Rhode Island employer is prohibited from discriminating against an individual on the basis of a positive HIV test result or perception of a positive test.

Other Laws Prohibiting Discrimination

A Rhode Island employer must comply with other laws that prohibit discrimination on a variety of bases, including:

  • Military status;
  • Status as a victim of domestic violence;
  • Union activities;
  • Genetic information and testing;
  • Registration as a medical marijuana user;
  • Use of a service animal;
  • Use of tobacco products outside the workplace; and
  • Refusal to disclose social media access information.

Be aware that where there is overlap between federal, state and/or local law, complying with the law that offers the greatest rights or benefits to the employee will generally apply.

Additional information on EEO, diversity and employee relations practices in Rhode Island can be found in the Rhode Island Employee Handbook Table of Contents, Disabilities (ADA): Rhode Island, EEO - Discrimination: Rhode Island, EEO - Harassment: Rhode Island, EEO - Retaliation: Rhode Island, Employee Communications: Rhode Island, Rhode Island Workplace Labor and Employment Law Posters and Does This Law Apply to My Organization in Rhode Island? Federal requirements can be found in Disabilities (ADA): Federal, EEO - Discrimination: Federal, EEO - Harassment: Federal, EEO - Retaliation: Federal and Employee Communications: Federal.

Recruiting and Hiring

Key Rhode Island requirements impacting recruiting and hiring are:

Arrest and Conviction Records

Although a Rhode Island employer may inquire about an applicant's conviction records, Rhode Island law prohibits an employer with four or more employees from requesting disclosure of arrest records or expunged convictions.

Drug Testing

Rhode Island has strict laws regulating the use of drug testing by an employer. A Rhode Island employer may require a job applicant to submit to a drug test upon receipt of a conditional offer of employment. However, an employer may not refuse to hire a job applicant solely based on his or her status as a qualifying medical marijuana user.

With respect to employees, all random drug testing is prohibited. In general, a Rhode Island employer may require that an employee submit to a drug test only if numerous conditions are met, including:

  • The employer has a drug abuse prevention policy that complies with Rhode Island law;
  • The employer has reasonable, documented grounds to believe that the employee may be under the influence of a controlled substance;
  • An employee testing positive is not terminated but referred to a substance abuse professional for assistance;
  • The employer provides the test sample and results to the employee with reasonable opportunity to have the sample retested at the employer's expense and to rebut or explain the results; and
  • The employer keeps the results confidential, disclosing the results only to employees with a job-related need to know or to defend a legal action.

Lie Detector Tests

Rhode Island law prohibits an employer from requiring a job applicant or employee to submit to a lie detector test as a condition of employment or continued employment.

Be aware that where there is overlap between federal, state and/or local law, complying with the law that offers the greatest rights or benefits to the employee will generally apply.

Additional information on recruiting and hiring practices in Rhode Island can be found in Preemployment Screening and Testing: Rhode Island. Federal requirements can be found in Preemployment Screening and Testing: Federal.

Wage and Hour

Key Rhode Island requirements impacting wages and hours are:

Minimum Wage

Rhode Island's minimum wage is higher than the federal minimum wage. Currently, the state minimum wage is $9.60 per hour, with certain exceptions.

Overtime

Rhode Island law generally requires an employer to pay covered employees overtime at a rate of one and one-half times the regular rate for all hours worked in excess of 40 hours in a workweek. Nonexempt employees also must be paid overtime if they work on a Sunday or certain holidays.

Meal Breaks

Rhode Island law requires most employers to provide an unpaid meal period of at least 20 consecutive minutes to employees who work at least a six-hour shift, and an unpaid meal period of at least 30 consecutive minutes to employees who work at least an eight-hour shift.

Breastfeeding Breaks

Under Rhode Island law, an employer may provide reasonable unpaid break time to allow an employee to breastfeed or express breast milk at work. The break time must, if possible, run concurrently with any break time already provided to the employee.

An employer must also make a reasonable effort to provide a room or other location that is:

  • Close to the employee's work area;
  • Sanitary;
  • Private; and
  • Not a toilet stall.

However, an employer is not required to provide breastfeeding breaks if doing so would create an undue hardship. Additionally, an employer may not discriminate against or discipline an employee for taking advantage of her right to breastfeed or express breast milk at work.

Child Labor

Rhode Island's complex child labor laws restrict the occupations in which minors may be employed and the number of hours and times during which they may work.

Rhode Island has an extensive list of hazardous occupations in which minors are prohibited from working, including:

  • Parking lot attendant;
  • Coal mining;
  • Logging;
  • Meat packing;
  • Roofing operations;
  • Excavation;
  • Work with power-driven circular saws; and
  • Work in warehouses, storage rooms, tunnels and foundries.

In addition, minors under the age of 16 may not work in a manufacturing, mechanical or factory establishment, and minors under the age of 14 may not work in a business or industrial establishment.

Rhode Island also has a complex set of requirements that govern the times during which minors may work. These requirements differ depending on the age of the minor and the employer's industry, with separate working time restrictions set out for 16- and 17-year-olds and for 14- and 15-year-olds.

Minors who are 14 or 15 years of age may not work:

  • During school hours;
  • Before 6:00 a.m. or after 7:00 p.m., except during school vacations when work is permitted until 9:00 p.m.;
  • More than eight hours per day; and
  • More than 40 hours a week.

Minors who are 16 or 17 years of age may not work:

  • During school hours;
  • Before 6:00 a.m. or after 11:30 p.m. (1:30 a.m. if no school the next day);
  • More than nine hours per day;
  • More than 48 hours a week; and
  • Without an eight-hour respite between the end of a shift on one day and the start of work the next day.

Minors who are 16 years of age or older may be employed during school vacations without limitation as to the total hours to be worked in a given week or calendar day.

A Rhode Island employer is required to keep a Certificate of Age form or a Special Limited Permit to Work form for all minor employees.

Be aware that where there is overlap between federal, state and/or local law, complying with the law that offers the greatest rights or benefits to the employee will generally apply.

Additional information on wage and hour practices in Rhode Island can be found in the Rhode Island Employee Handbook Table of Contents, Minimum Wage: Rhode Island, Overtime: Rhode Island, Child Labor: Rhode Island and Rhode Island Workplace Labor and Employment Law Posters. Federal requirements can be found in Minimum Wage: Federal, Overtime: Federal and Child Labor: Federal.

Pay and Benefits

Key Rhode Island requirements impacting pay and benefits are:

Health Care Continuation

Under Rhode Island's continuation coverage law, an employer must offer continuation of heath care coverage to an employee and his or her covered dependents who lose coverage as a result of certain qualifying events, including:

  • Involuntary layoff;
  • Death of the employee;
  • Workplace ceasing to exist; and
  • Permanent reduction in the size of the workforce.

Coverage may continue for up to 18 months but may not exceed the number of months an employee was continuously employed prior to the qualifying event.

Payment of Wages

Rhode Island law requires an employer to pay employees weekly on regular paydays, unless their compensation is fixed at a biweekly, semimonthly, monthly or yearly rate. Otherwise, an employer may pay employees less often than weekly only if:

  • The employer has at least 2,500 employees and an average payroll that exceeds 135 percent of the state minimum wage; or
  • The employer successfully petitions the Department of Labor and Training to allow less frequent wage payments.

Paydays must occur within nine days after the end of each pay period. If the ninth day is a holiday, wages must be paid by the next business day.

Upon termination, Rhode Island law provides that wages are due the next regular payday at the usual place of payment. However, if an employer has liquidated, merged or disposed of the business, or has moved the business out of state, employees must be paid within 24 hours of termination.

An employee who has been employed for longer than one year must be paid unused vacation pay accrued or awarded by the terms of a collective bargaining agreement, the employer's written or verbal policy, or some other written or verbal agreement between the employer and employee.

Pay Statement Requirements

Rhode Island employers are required to provide employees with a written record of certain pay-related information, including:

  • Hours worked; and
  • Itemized deductions, including an explanation of the basis or reason for each deduction.

Wage Deductions

Under Rhode Island law, an employer may make involuntary wage deductions from an employee's wages if required or empowered to do so by state or federal law, including:

  • Child support;
  • Tax levies; and
  • Creditor garnishment.

In addition, if an employee provides written authorization, an employer may make certain voluntary pay deductions from employee wages, including:

  • Trade, union or craft dues and other legal obligations imposed by a collective bargaining agreement;
  • Retirement plan contributions;
  • Payments to purchase obligations of the US or company stock under an employee stock purchase plan;
  • Contributions for accident, health or life insurance; and
  • Amounts credited to a share, deposit or loan account in a credit union.

An employer is prohibited from making pay deductions for the cost of uniforms provided to employees.

Be aware that where there is overlap between federal, state and/or local law, complying with the law that offers the greatest rights or benefits to the employee will generally apply.

Additional information on pay and benefit practices in Rhode Island can be found in Health Care Continuation (COBRA): Rhode Island, Health Care Benefits: Rhode Island, Payment of Wages: Rhode Island, Involuntary and Voluntary Pay Deductions: Rhode Island and Rhode Island Workplace Labor and Employment Law Posters. Federal requirements can be found in Health Care Continuation (COBRA): Federal, Health Care Benefits: Federal, Payment of Wages: Federal and Involuntary and Voluntary Pay Deductions: Federal.

Attendance and Leave

Key Rhode Island requirements impacting attendance and leave are:

Rhode Island Parental and Family Medical Leave Act

The Rhode Island Parental and Family Medical Leave Act (RIPFMLA) requires employers with 50 or more employees to provide eligible employees with a total of 13 consecutive workweeks of job-protected unpaid leave during any two calendar years for qualifying reasons, including:

  • Birth of a child;
  • Placement of a child 16 years or younger for adoption;
  • Serious illness of a family member (i.e., parent, spouse (including same-sex), child, mother-in-law and father-in-law); and
  • The employee's own serious illness.

While the RIPFMLA and the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) parallel each other to a large degree, there are areas in which they differ. Accordingly, an employer must look at both laws when making family and medical leave decisions.

Temporary Caregiver Insurance Program

Under Rhode Island's Temporary Caregiver Insurance (TCI) Program, an employer must provide up to four weeks of job-protected leave to an employee who is unable to perform his or her job duties because he or she needs to care for certain seriously ill family members, or needs time off to bond with a newborn (i.e., under one year of age), adopted or foster child. During the leave, an employee is eligible to receive TCI as a form of wage replacement benefits.

An employer may require that an employee who exercises his or her right to benefits under the TCI program take such benefits at the same time as any leave provided under the FMLA and/or the RIPFMLA (assuming the employee is eligible for either/or both leaves).

Family Military Leave Act

Under Rhode Island's Family Military Leave Act, an employer with between 15 and 50 employees must provide up to 15 total days of leave, and an employer with more than 50 employees must provide up to 30 total days of leave to a spouse or parent of an armed-service member while deployment orders are in effect.

Other Leave Laws Affecting Rhode Island Employers

Most Rhode Island employers are also required to comply with several other leave laws, including:

  • Military leave;
  • Jury duty and witness leave;
  • School involvement leave (50 or more employees);
  • Volunteer Firefighter and Emergency Technician Protection Act;
  • Pregnancy disability leave (four or more employees); and
  • Crime victim leave (50 or more employees).

Be aware that where there is overlap between federal, state and/or local law, complying with the law that offers the greatest rights or benefits to the employee will generally apply.

Additional information on attendance and leave practices in Rhode Island can be found in the Rhode Island Employee Handbook Table of Contents, FMLA: Rhode Island, Jury Duty: Rhode Island, Other Leaves: Rhode Island, USERRA: Rhode Island, Rhode Island Workplace Labor and Employment Law Posters and Does This Law Apply to My Organization in Rhode Island? Federal requirements can be found in FMLA: Federal, Jury Duty: Federal, Other Leaves: Federal and USERRA: Federal.

Health and Safety

Under Rhode Island's Hazardous Substance Right-to-Know Act, an employer must initially register hazardous substances with the state and submit a list of hazardous substances used, transported, produced or stored by the workplace. Even if the business is exempt and has no hazardous chemicals present in the workplace, initial filing is required.

Employee training and notification of chemical hazards is also required under the law.

Additional information on health and safety requirements in Rhode Island can be found in HR and Workplace Safety: Rhode Island, Rhode Island Workplace Labor and Employment Law Posters and Does This Law Apply to My Organization in Rhode Island? Federal requirements can be found in HR and Workplace Safety (OSHA Compliance): Federal.