Wage and Hour Laws

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 What Are Wage and Hour Laws?

Wage and hour laws are state and federal laws that determine the standards for both minimum wage and overtime hours. They also regulate other aspects of labor in the U.S. The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) sets the national minimum wage as well as rules regarding the payment of overtime. All states also have their own wage and hour laws.

In addition to governing wages and hours, the FLSA addresses record keeping by employers and the employment of youth in both the private and public sectors. Workers who are covered by the FLSA are referred to as “non-exempt.”

These workers are entitled to be paid at least the federal minimum wage, which is the absolute lowest hourly rate that employers can legally pay their employees. There are also exceptions, that is, workers who are exempt from the minimum wage law. An example is casual babysitters.

Additionally, nonexempt employees are to receive 1.5 times their regular hourly rate for every hour worked that exceeds forty hours in one work week.

The FLSA also addresses child labor standards by providing protections for minors who are between the ages of 14 and 17 years old. An example of such protections would be restricted maximum work hours, as well as an extensive list of occupations that have been ruled too dangerous to be performed by child labor.

Generally, the rules of the FLSA depend on the age of the minor as follows:

  • 14-year-old children: Fourteen is the minimum age for employment in specified occupations. Children who are 14 and younger may work when school is not in session (because state laws require students of this age to attend school). A 14-year-old may only work for limited periods of time each day and each week;
  • 16-year-old children: Sixteen is the basic minimum age for employment in the U.S. A youth who is 16 or older may work for an unlimited number of hours in any occupation that is not considered hazardous by the federal Secretary of Labor;
  • 18-year-old person: At the age of 18, a person can work for any number of hours in any occupation, even in nonagricultural occupations declared “hazardous” by the Secretary of Labor.

States have their own laws regulating all aspects of labor. They cannot provide less protection or allow lower pay than the federal minimums set by the FLSA, and several states and even localities offer higher minimum wages and greater restrictions on child labor.

An employer may fail to respect federal wage and hour laws and the laws of the state in which they operate. If so, they can be subject to legal penalties, and/or exposed to a civil lawsuit filed by their employees who are affected. Again, it is important to note that employers must also adhere to state wage and hour laws in addition to those set by the FLSA.

What Are Wage and Hour Lawsuits?

Wage and hour lawsuits are usually lawsuits brought by employees who believe they have not been paid in accordance with applicable law. For example, they may claim they have not been paid the minimum wage for the hours they worked or overtime pay for overtime hours they worked.

What Types of Legal Issues Are Involved in Wage and Hour Lawsuits?

Many lawsuits involve disputes regarding the amount of wages an employee has earned or the number of hours they have worked. Some examples of the most commonly occurring disputes include those associated with:

  • Whether an employee is entitled to be paid overtime for certain hours they have worked;
  • Paid vacation or medical leave;
  • Pregnancy leave;
  • Wrongful termination, such as failing to pay an employee the wages they are owed in a timely manner when they are terminated;
  • Wage discrimination; and
  • Wage garnishment, which is often connected to other legal disputes, such as child support.

Wage and hour lawsuits can also be referred to as wage and salary claims. Although it is far less common, there are some wage and hour lawsuits involving an employee abusing work procedures in order to claim FLSA benefits to which they are not entitled.

Again, this is relatively rare when compared to more common disputes in which an employer fails to pay their employees the full wages they are due for the hours they have worked, whether it is the minimum wage or overtime.

As noted above, common disputes associated with wage and hour lawsuits include:

  • Minimum Wage: Lawsuits associated with minimum wage disputes nearly always occur when an employer fails to pay an employee the federal minimum wage as required by law. The federal minimum wage is the absolute lowest amount an employer can legally pay employees. Most states adhere to this federal minimum.
    • However, some states provide a higher minimum wage, in which case qualified employees of those states should receive the state minimum wage;
  • Exempt Employees: Some employees may be classified as being exempt from FLSA regulations and standards. What this means is that because of their occupation or some other factor, overtime pay laws do not apply to these employees. This becomes an issue when employers misclassify employees, whether intentionally or accidentally.
    Incorrectly classifying employees in an attempt to avoid paying them overtime wages is illegal;
  • Job Duties: Many disputes arise when there is a discrepancy between an employee’s job title and the actual duties that they perform. Generally speaking, FLSA provisions are based on the actual duties that an employee performs as opposed to their job description or title. As such, exemptions are also based on duties and not titles.
    • It is common for employers to mistakenly base an employee’s FLSA status on their job description and not on the actual job duties;
  • Working “Off the Clock”: Because not every company operates according to a set forty-hour work week, FLSA violations can arise in connection with scheduling and overtime rates. An example of this would be when an employer does not include mandatory business meetings as part of the work day and refuses to pay employees for attending them; and
  • Wage Withholding: An employer may wrongfully withhold wages from an employee for any number of reasons. Some of the most common reasons are discrimination and retaliation. It is important to note that in order for a legal claim to be made, the reason why the wages were being withheld must be illegal, such as the aforementioned examples.

What if I Need to File a Wage and Hour Claim?

If a person has an issue involving wage and hour disputes, the first step is for the person to contact their employer’s human resources department. They should investigate the claim and propose a remedy.

When the human resources remedy is not adequate, a person may then file a claim with the Wage and Hour Division (WHD) of the U.S. Department of Labor. The WHD division then conducts an investigation into their employer in order to determine if there are FLSA violations. If a violation is found, they may compel the employer to pay the wages they owe. They may also enforce penalties against the employer, such as a demand that the employer adjust their labor policies.

If the DOL is unable to provide a sufficient remedy, they may issue a Right to Sue letter, which allows a person to file a private civil lawsuit against their employer. By law, employers are prohibited from terminating an employee who makes a report about wage and hour disputes in the workplace.

When moving forward with a lawsuit, the burden of proof is on the employee to prove that they are entitled to the pay they claim. So, it is the employee’s responsibility to provide proof to the court in support of your claim. Some examples of evidence may include the following:

  • Pay stubs;
  • A record of work clocking in and out or other records of hours worked;
  • Bank records of automatic deposits from an employer;
  • Receipts;
  • Statements from coworkers experiencing similar issues;
  • Various other documents, such as copies of communication between the person and their employer or any other party involved.

It is always a good idea for a person who is paid an hourly wage to keep their records of the hours they work and to document the pay the employer has promised to pay them for their hours. If a worker does this, then if there is a problem, they have their own record of the hours they worked and the pay their employer promised them for their labor.

In terms of potential remedies in a wage and hour claim, if the employee is successful, most wage and hour claims result in an award of damages. Such awards are generally sufficient in providing relief for any losses experienced by the employee related to the acts of their employer. A damages award is intended to cover any unpaid wages in addition to other losses that may be related to the claim.

An example of this would be any lost profits on a business transaction. Other potential remedies may include:

  • A requirement that the employer change their payment and hour requirements;
  • An investigation into the company’s overall recordkeeping practices;
  • The termination of a supervisor or manager responsible for the violation;
  • Reinstatement of the employee back to their previous position if they were fired in retaliation for making their wage and hour claim.

How Are Wage and Hour Disputes Proven?

As noted above, the employee needs to be able to prove that they worked a certain number of hours and are entitled to a certain wage for those hours, a wage that their employer has refused to pay.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help With My Wage and Hour Claims?

The process for making a wage and hour claim might become complicated. A person might have to turn to their state Department of Labor or the federal Department of Labor and make a claim with one of these agencies.

LegalMatch.com can connect you to an employment lawyer who is knowledgeable about all the government agencies and their procedures. Your employment lawyer is your wage-and-hour lawyer. They understand your state’s specific wage and hour laws and can help determine your status under federal laws also.

An employment attorney can also help you file a complaint with the appropriate government agency. They can also represent you in court, as needed, should you pursue a civil lawsuit against your employer.


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