Fair Pay laws generally govern an employee’s rights to certain standards with regard to pay rates and wage and salary issues. According to federal and state fair pay laws, an employee must be paid fairly by an employer in exchange for work. Although this sounds relatively simple and basic, wage and hours rules quickly become complicated. For instance, there can often be disputes about:

  • How much an employee is paid;
  • When they are paid;
  • How much they are paid in relation to other employees doing the same type of work;
  • Disputes regarding tips, employment benefits, and other issues;
  • Disputes over payment during leave (time off or vacation); and
  • Various other disputes.

Fair pay rules vary may by state, and the federal government also has its own guidelines. These two sets of laws often overlap, which may make the assistance of a lawyer necessary when it comes to certain fair pay issues.

Can My Employer Pay Federal Minimum Wage Instead of the State’s Minimum?

This depends on several factors. As mentioned, federal and state fair pay rules often overlap. However, an employer is generally not allowed to choose as freely as they like. They must usually go with the one which gives the employee the most benefit. 

For instance, if you are hired in California and the local minimum wage is $12 per hour, then your employer is required to pay you at least this amount. This is true even if the federal minimum is only $7.25 per hour.

Can My Employer Make Me Clock Out Whenever I Take a Break?

Laws covering employee breaks also vary by state. They generally depend on three factors:

  • The length of the break;
  • State law; and
  • What an employee does during the break

For example, some states require employers to give 10-minute paid breaks for every four hours an  employee works. If a state does not require paid breaks, then employers only need to pay when an employee:

  • Works through break time; or
  • Has a break lasting for less than 20 minutes.

Again, rules can vary widely regarding this particular aspect of fair pay. You may need to consult with a lawyer if you’re unsure of the rules in your area.

Does My Employer Have to Pay Me Overtime?

The answer to this also depends on whether an employer is covered by state law or by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The employee must also determine:

  • Status: Exempted employees like executives are generally not entitled to overtime pay; and
  • The Type of Job/Position: Some jobs types are exempt from overtime pay. These include independent contractors, volunteers (who are not paid at all), and outside salespeople.

Can My Employer Pay Me Below Minimum Wage If I Receive Tips?

Typically, as mentioned, an employer must pay either state or federal minimum wage. An employer is sometimes allowed to pay less than minimum wage if the employee consistently receive at least $30 in tips per month. The amount must equal the minimum wage for each hour worked. These laws can be fairly complex and may be subject to change over time. 

For example, as of September 2019, in Louisiana the labor law has a different minimum wage for “tipped employees”, like waiters or servers. Louisiana’s minimum wage is already $7.25, but employers have the right to deduct up to $5.12 in tips per hour (this amount can be less if the waiter earns less tips). The $5.12 tip credit deduction means that employers can pay their tipped employees $2.13 per hour.

What if I Feel I Have been Discriminated Against with Regard to Pay?

Employers are prohibited from discriminating against an employee with regard to certain characteristics. These can include backgrounds and characteristics such as a person’s: age, sex, gender, race, sexual preference, political affliation, religion, and country of origin. 

For instance, an employer cannot pay one employee less than others who do the same work simply based on the person’s age. They also cannot treat one group of employees better than another group based on matters such as political background or affiliation. 

What if I Want to Sue My Employer for Discrimination Regarding Fair Pay?

If an employee suspects that they have been discriminated against, they will likely have to file a legal claim. This is usually done by first filing a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC will conduct an investigation into the matter to determine if a discrimination violation has indeed occurred. If it has, they will seek to provide a remedy for the person or persons affected by the discrimination.

In the event that the EEOC cannot provide a suitable remedy, the employee or employees affected may then be able to file a private civil lawsuit against their employer for damages or other remedies. However, they must usually file with the EEOC first before they are allowed to file a private lawsuit. This is known as “exhausting the remedies”. 

Lastly, employers cannot retaliate against employees who have filed a claim against them for fair pay discrimination. For instance, they cannot fire an employee because they filed a complaint with the EEOC. 

This is true even if the EEOC determines that no violation has occurred. Every employee has the right to file their claim without fear of being fired, having their pay lowered, or other consequences against them. 

Should I Talk to a Lawyer About My Issue with Fair Pay?

State and federal fair pay laws are important, but they can be violated by an employer. You may need to contact an employment lawyer regarding wage and hours rules and how to proceed if they were violated. Your employer can provide you with advice and guidance during the entire process.