Wage and hour laws are what determine and enforce the minimum standards for both minimum wage and overtime hours. These categories fall under the FLSA. Simply put, the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) governs the various aspects of employment at the federal level. It is helpful to first understand the FLSA as a whole before discussing wage and hour laws specifically.
In addition to governing wage and hour laws, the FLSA addresses record keeping and employing youth in both the private and public sectors. Workers who are covered by the Act are referred to as being nonexempt. These workers are entitled to receive the federal minimum wage, which is the absolute lowest hourly rate that employers can legally pay their employees. 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 laws 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 which have been ruled as too dangerous to be performed by child labor.
To summarize, the FLSA requires the following of employers:
- Pay their employees at least federal minimum wage;
- Pay their employees overtime wages when applicable;
- Adhere to child labor standards; and
- Maintain accurate records regarding hours, wages, etc.
Failure to adhere to wage and hour laws can result in legal penalties, and/or expose the violator to a civil lawsuit from affected employees. 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 Some Examples of Common Lawsuits Associated With Wage and Hour Laws?
Legal claims associated with wage and hour disputes are generally complex, involving more than just one type of legal issue. 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:
- Overtime pay and hours;
- Paid vacation or medical leave;
- Pregnancy leave;
- Wrongful termination, such as failing to pay an employee their wages in connection with
- Intentional violations, such as harassment or discrimination; and
- Wage garnishment, which is often involved with 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 that they are not entitled to. Again, this is relatively rare when compared to more common disputes in which an employer fails to pay their employees minimum wage or overtime.
To expand on what was previously mentioned, 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 previously discussed, 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 are to 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, their employer does not need to adhere to overtime pay laws. 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 how most employers fail to include business meetings as part of the work day; 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.
How Are Wage and Hour Claims Handled?
If you have an issue involving wage and hour disputes, the first step will be to contact your employer’s human resources department. They will investigate your claim and likely propose a remedy. Generally speaking, you cannot file a complaint or a lawsuit until you have exhausted all available administrative remedies.
When the human resources remedy is not suitable, you can proceed with filing a claim with the Wage and Hour Division (“WHD”) of the U.S. Department of Labor. The WHD division will conduct an investigation into your employer in order to determine if there are FLSA violations. If a violation is found, they may enforce penalties against the employer, such as a demand that the employer adjust their labor policies.
If the Department of Labor is unable to provide a sufficient remedy, they may issue a Right to Sue letter which will allow you to file a private civil lawsuit against your employer. Potential remedies will be further discussed below. 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 will be on you. What this means is that it is your responsibility to provide proof to the court in support of your claim. Some examples of evidence may include, but not be limited to:
- Pay stubs;
- A record work clocking in and out, or other record of hours worked;
- Tax papers;
- Statements from coworkers experiencing similar issues; and
- Various other documents, such as copies of communication between you and your employer or any other party involved.
In terms of potential remedies, most wage and hour claims will result in a damages award. 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 deal. Other potential remedies may include:
- The employer being required to 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; and/or
- Reinstatement of the employee back to their previous position, if they were terminated in connection with the dispute.
Do I Need an Attorney For Issues Associated With Wage and Hour Laws?
Because claims involving wage and hour laws are generally complicated and involve many areas of the law, it is recommended that you consult with a local and experienced employment lawyer if you are experiencing any issues. State laws can vary widely in terms of worker protections, and it can sometimes be difficult to determine whether a person is considered to be exempt or nonexempt in terms of the FLSA.
An experienced and local employment attorney will be best suited to understanding your state’s specific wage and hour laws, and can help determine your status under the FLSA. An attorney can also help you file a complaint with the appropriate agency, as well as represent you in court, as needed, should you pursue a civil lawsuit against your employer.