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Federal and state laws protect employees from bad actions by employers that could affect your paycheck. The federal labor laws tend to set minimum standards that employers must follow, while state laws sometimes expand this protection.
Whenever you have a problem with your pay, you should first check to see if the issue is covered by federal or state law. Then, you should refer to any written contract between you and your employer that makes specific promises about pay and benefits.
Federal Law Sets Minimum Pay Levels for Regular Employees
The Fair Labor Standards Act is the federal law that establishes the federal minimum wage for most hourly employees. Many states require employers to pay a state minimum wage that is a little more per hour than the federal wage.
The FLSA also requires employers to pay overtime to certain employees at one-and-one-half-times your hourly rate. Overtime is measured by the week, not by the day, so overtime is due for the hours over 40 worked in a week.
Federal Pay Requirements Are Limited
Federal labor laws do not require anything other than minimum wage and overtime. If your employer refuses to pay you for vacation or sick time, bonuses, or commission, you cannot file a complaint based on the FLSA.
Some states have their own labor laws that protect certain rights of workers but, unless you have a written agreement that promises you the missing benefits, you will likely be out of luck. Workers with employment agreements can sue their employers for breach of contract.
Federal Law Prevents Wage Discrimination
Proof of discrimination is one of the only ways for you to pursue a claim against your employer for benefits outside of hourly pay. Federal law prevents employers from paying people differently based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, or age (40 and older).
The Equal Pay Act specifically prevents gender discrimination. It requires men and women to receive equal pay for equal work. All forms of pay are covered under the EPA, including bonuses, stock options, and other benefits.
Pursue a Claim for Unpaid Wages Under State Law
If your employer has shorted your paycheck, bounced a check, or did not pay you your hourly wage as expected, the federal labor laws offer you limited protection. The federal laws require the employer to pay you at least the minimum wage, but anything over that is not covered. Many states have passed labor laws that require employers to pay the full amount owed to hourly employees at regular intervals.
An Employment Lawyer Can Help
Wage and compensation law is a complicated legal topic. Plus, the circumstances surrounding each employment situation are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. For more detailed, specific information, please contact an employment lawyer.