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. Employers must also provide equal pay, pregnancy accommodations, access to personnel files and whistleblower protections. See EEO, Diversity and Employee Relations.
  • Rhode Island permits preemployment credit checks, criminal checks and drug testing. See Recruiting and Hiring.
  • In Rhode Island, there are requirements relating to the minimum wage, overtime, meal breaks, breastfeeding breaks and child labor. See Wage and Hour.
  • Rhode Island has laws that relate to employee pay and benefits, including health care continuation, temporary disability insurance, pay frequency, pay statements and wage deduction requirements. See Pay and Benefits.
  • Under Rhode Island law, employees are entitled to certain leaves or time off, including family and medical leave, paid family leave, paid sick leave, school activities leave and emergency responder leave. See Time Off and Leaves of Absence.
  • Rhode Island prohibits smoking in the workplace and using a hand-held personal wireless communication device while driving. See Health and Safety.
  • When employment ends, Rhode Island employers must comply with applicable final pay and job reference requirements. See Organizational Exit.

Introduction to Employment Law in Rhode Island

Rhode Island has many laws that provide greater protections to employees than federal law, including pregnancy accommodation rights, a higher minimum wage, paid sick leave and paid family leave, but generally follows federal law with respect to topics such as preemployment credit checks and occupational safety and health.

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:

Fair Employment Practices

The State Fair Employment Practices Act (FEPA) applies to employers with four or more employees 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 sexual harassment policy.

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

The Rhode Island Civil Rights Act (RICRA) provides broad protection against all forms of discrimination in all phases of employment. Specifically, the RICRA requires that employers treat employees the same, regardless of race, color, religion, sex, disability, age or country of ancestral origin. The law applies to all employers regardless of size.

In addition, the Rhode Island Civil Rights of People with Disabilities Act prohibits an employer 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.

Equal Pay

The Wage Discrimination Based on Sex law prohibits a Rhode Island employer from discriminating in the payment of wages as between the sexes. An employer is also prohibited from paying a female employee salary or wage rates less than the rates paid to male employees for equal work or work on the same operations.

An employer may pay different wages based upon:

  • Seniority;
  • Experience;
  • Training;
  • Skill;
  • Ability;
  • Duties and services performed, either regularly or occasionally;
  • Shift or time of day worked;
  • Availability for other operations; or
  • Any other reasonable differentiation except difference in sex.

Pregnancy Accommodation

The FEPA requires an employer with four or more employees to provide reasonable accommodations for an employee's or applicant's condition related to pregnancy, childbirth or a related medical condition, including lactation or the need to express breast milk. Reasonable accommodations include, but are not limited to:

  • More frequent or longer breaks;
  • Time off to recover from childbirth;
  • Access to or modification of equipment;
  • Seating;
  • Temporary transfer to a less-strenuous or less-hazardous position;
  • Job restructuring;
  • Light duty;
  • Break time and private space (not a bathroom) for lactation purposes;
  • Assistance with manual labor; or
  • Modified work schedules.

Access to Personnel Files

Upon written request, and with at least seven days' advance notice (excluding holidays, Saturdays and Sundays), employees have the right to inspect their personnel files used to determine their qualifications for employment, promotion, additional compensation, termination or disciplinary action. Employees may only inspect their personnel records on three occasions per calendar year.

Whistleblower Protections

The Rhode Island Whistleblowers' Protection Act prohibits an employer from taking any adverse employment action because an employee has reported a violation, unless the employer has reason to know the reported violation is false.

The Act protects employees who:

  • Report, or plan to report, to a public body a violation of a law, rule or regulation;
  • Participate in a whistleblowing investigation, hearing or inquiry, or a court claim; or
  • Refuse to violate or assist in violating any law, rule or regulation.

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, HR Management: Rhode Island, Employee Discipline: 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, HR Management: Federal and Employee Discipline: Federal.

Recruiting and Hiring

Key Rhode Island requirements impacting recruiting and hiring are:

Credit Checks

Similar to federal law, Rhode Island's credit checks law requires an employer to provide advance notice prior to obtaining a credit report and to advise the applicant if it decides not to hire based on a credit report.

Criminal Checks

The State Fair Employment Practices Act generally prohibits an employer with four or more employees from inquiring about a job applicant's arrest records. An employer may inquire about an applicant's conviction records.

Drug Testing

An employer may require a job applicant to submit to a test of his or her blood, urine or any other bodily fluid or tissue if the employer:

  • Has extended a conditional job offer;
  • Allows the applicant to provide the test sample in private; and
  • Confirms positive test results with a certified lab.

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 and Does This Law Apply to My Organization in 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 $10.10 per hour, with certain exceptions.

Overtime

Rhode Island law generally requires an employer to pay nonexempt 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 at least one and one-half times their regular rate for work performed on Sundays and certain holidays.

Meal Breaks

An employer with five or more employees and that employ minors under age 16 must 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 each day to allow an employee to breastfeed or express breast milk for her infant child, unless doing so would create an undue hardship. The break time must, if possible, run concurrently with any break time already provided to the employee.

Child Labor

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

All minors are prohibited from working in hazardous occupations and operating or assisting in operating various machines (e.g., circular saws, wood shapers, planers, burnishing machines, stamping machines).

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.

The times during which minors may work differ depending on the age of the minor and the employer's industry.

In general, 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. (9 p.m. during school vacations);
  • More than eight hours per day; and
  • More than 40 hours a week.

Minors who are 16 or 17 years of age generally 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.

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, Hours Worked: 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, Hours Worked: Federal and Child Labor: Federal.

Pay and Benefits

Key Rhode Island requirements impacting pay and benefits are:

Health Care Continuation

Regardless of size, a Rhode Island 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 the employee was continuously employed prior to the qualifying event.

Temporary Disability Insurance

The Rhode Island Temporary Disability Insurance Act allows an employee to collect up to 30 weeks of wage replacement benefits per year when they are unable to work due to a nonwork-related injury or illness or due to pregnancy, miscarriage or childbirth. The program is funded by taxes withheld from employees' wages.

Payment of Wages

Wages must be paid in cash or by check. An employer may pay wages by direct deposit or payroll card if certain conditions are met.

Pay Frequency

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. An employer may pay employees less often than weekly under certain circumstances.

Pay Statements

Rhode Island employers must provide employees with pay statements showing:

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

Wage Deductions

Under Rhode Island law, an employer may make deductions from an employee's wages if required or empowered to do so by state or federal law or court order, or if authorized by the employee in writing.

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 benefits practices in Rhode Island can be found in Health Care Continuation (COBRA): Rhode Island, Insurance and Disability Benefits: Rhode Island, Payment of Wages: Rhode Island, Involuntary and Voluntary Pay Deductions: 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 Health Care Continuation (COBRA): Federal, Insurance and Disability Benefits: Federal, Payment of Wages: Federal and Involuntary and Voluntary Pay Deductions: Federal.

Time Off and Leaves of Absence

Key Rhode Island requirements impacting time off and leaves of absence are:

Family and Medical Leave

The Rhode Island Parental and Family Medical Leave Act (RIPFMLA) requires employers with 50 or more employees to provide eligible employees with up to 13 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 covered family member; 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.

Paid family leave, also known as temporary caregiver insurance (TCI) in Rhode Island, provides eligible employees with up to four weeks of job-protected leave per benefit year in order to bond with a newborn, newly adopted or newly placed foster child or to care for a seriously ill family member. During the leave, an employee is eligible to receive TCI as a form of wage replacement benefits.

Under the Healthy and Safe Families and Workplaces Act (HSFWA), an employer must provide paid sick and safe leave if it has an average of 18 or more employees in Rhode Island. An employer with fewer than 18 employees must provide unpaid leave. An eligible employee may earn one hour of sick leave for every 35 hours worked and may take leave for the following reasons:

  • The employee's or a covered family member's illness, injury or health condition; need for medical diagnosis, care or treatment; or need for preventive medical care;
  • Closure of an employee's place of business or child's school or place of care by order of a public official due to a public health emergency;
  • The employee's or a family member's presence in the community may jeopardize the health of others because of exposure to a communicable disease; and
  • The employee or a family member is a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking.

An employee may accrue and use up to 24 hours of sick leave in 2018, 32 hours in 2019 and 40 hours each year after that.

Other Time Off Requirements Affecting Rhode Island Employers

In addition to the family and medical leave, paid family leave and paid sick leave laws, a Rhode Island employer is also required to comply with other leave and time off laws, such as:

  • School involvement leave (covering employers with 50 or more employees);
  • Jury duty leave;
  • Court appearance leave;
  • Crime victim leave (covering employers with 50 or more employees);
  • Military leave;
  • Emergency responder leave;
  • Family military leave (covering employers with 15 or more employees); and
  • Day of rest requirements.

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 time off and leave of absence 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, Hours Worked: 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, USERRA: Federal and Hours Worked: Federal.

Health and Safety

Key Rhode Island requirements impacting health and safety are:

Smoke-Free Workplace

Rhode Island's Public Health and Workplace Safety Act prohibits smoking, including the use of e-cigarettes, in nearly all enclosed public places and places of employment, including common work areas, conference and meeting rooms, private offices, employee lounges and restrooms. An employee may not smoke in an employer-owned vehicle that is used by more than one person.

Safe Driving Practices

Rhode Island prohibits drivers from engaging in a call and sending, receiving or reading text, email and instant messages using a hand-held personal wireless communication device. However, a driver may engage in a call using a hands-free accessory.

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 health and safety practices in Rhode Island can be found in the Rhode Island Employee Handbook Table of Contents, HR and Workplace Safety: Rhode Island, Employee Health: 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 and Employee Health: Federal.

Organizational Exit

Key Rhode Island requirements impacting organizational exit are:

Final Pay

Terminated employees generally must be paid their final wages by the next regular payday and at the usual place of payment. Final wages include holiday pay and, if the employee has been employed for longer than one year, accrued but unused vacation pay.

For a deceased employee, an employer generally may pay up to $150 in wages, salary or other employee benefits to payees in a certain order, starting with the employee's surviving spouse.

References

A Rhode Island employer is protected from liability for disclosing fair and unbiased information related to the job performance and conduct of a current or former employee. Disclosures are presumed to be made in good faith, unless the employee can show that the information was:

  • Knowingly false;
  • Deliberately misleading;
  • Disclosed for a malicious purpose; or
  • Discriminatory.

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 organizational exit practices in Rhode Island can be found in Payment of Wages: Rhode Island, Employee Communications: Rhode Island and Does This Law Apply to My Organization in Rhode Island? Federal requirements can be found in Payment of Wages: Federal and Employee Communications: Federal.