Labor and Employment

Basics of Wages and Overtime Laws

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires that most employers pay a minimum wage and pay employees overtime if they work more than 40 hours in a week. The FLSA also requires that employers pay the same wages to all workers doing the same job, regardless of their race, color, national origin, religion, sex, age or disability.

Workers who aren't covered by the minimum wage and overtime laws are sometimes referenced as being "exempt." Such workers include, among others:

  • Executives
  • Professionals
  • Outside salespeople
  • Small farm employees
  • Computer specialists
  • Apprentices
  • Seamen and fishermen

Minimum Wage

As of July 24th, 2008, the federal minimum wage is $6.55, which will increase to $7.25 beginning July 24, 2009. Many states have higher minimum wage requirements, and many states keep pace with the federal requirements.

Overtime Wages

The FLSA, doesn't limit the number of hours that an employer can require an employee to work, but it does require the employer to pay overtime, at a rate of one and one-half times the worker's normal rate of pay, or "hourly wage," for any time above 40 hours per week.

Each state can calculate the 40-hour workweek differently. For example, some states require that overtime be paid for time worked during any given workday in excess of 8 hours. Other states simply look at how many hours are worked for an entire week (for example, four work days of 10 hours each would not require overtime).

Employers can pay different rates for "on-call" versus "performance" time, so long as the workers are paid at least minimum wage for all the time.

Usually, overtime pay earned during a particular workweek must be paid whenever the normal payday would be for that workweek.

Certain Employment Related Activities are not Compensable

The Portal-to-Portal Act specifies that certain activities are not subject to compensation, such as: walking, riding, or traveling to and from the actual place of performance of your employment duties and activities that are preliminary or occur after the performance of your employment duties. Some activities depend on the circumstances, such as:

Waiting Time. If you are engaged to wait, then this is work time; however, if you are waiting to be engaged, then this is not work time.

On-Call Time. If you are required to remain on call on the employer's premises or so close by that you cannot use the time effectively for your own purposes, then this is work time. An employee who is required to remain on call at home, or who is allowed to leave a message where he or she may be reached, is not working (in most cases)

Rest and Meal Periods. Coffee breaks, snack times and other short rest periods of 5 to 20 minutes duration, are common and are customarily paid for as working time. Bona fide meal periods (typically 30 minutes or more) generally need not be compensated as work time.

Lectures, Meetings and Training Programs. Attendance at lectures, meetings, training programs and similar activities need not be counted as working time if the following four criteria are met:

  • Attendance is outside of the employee's regular working hours
  • Attendance is voluntary
  • The course, lecture, or meeting is not directly related to the employee's job and
  • The employee does not perform any productive work during such attendance

Enforcing your Wage Rights under the FLSA

If an employee thinks he or she has been under paid, or not paid the wages required by the FLSA, the worker can file a complaint with a local Wage and Hour Division of the U. S. Department of Labor. Once a claim is made, a Wage and Hour representative will investigate the claim. Violations of the FLSA can result in fines, imprisonment or both.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • How are my overtime hours calculated in my state?
  • How do I find out what my co-workers are earning if I suspect that I am being paid less for the same work?
  • What can I do if my employer refuses to pay me during the time that I take short breaks during an eight hour workday?
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