Certain federal employment regulations such as minimum wage, overtime, child labor standards, and recordkeeping rules are established by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) administers the law and may order payment of back wages, file a lawsuit for back wages, or obtain an injunction for FLSA violations. Some employees, generally those paid an annual salary and earning more than a certain amount, are considered "exempt" and thus not protected by the FLSA. This means exempt employees are not entitled to overtime pay for working more than 40 hours in a week.
The following is a general overview of employee protections under the FLSA. Keep in mind that many states offer more protections for their employees, including higher minimum wage requirements.
FLSA Wage Basics
Overtime pay must be at least one and one-half times the regular rate of pay, meaning a nonexempt employee who regularly makes $10 per hour must be paid at least $15 for each hour over 40 within the work week. Some state laws also limit how many hours a nonexempt employee may work within each day. California, for example, requires nonexempt employees to be paid overtime (time and one-half) for hours worked beyond eight in a single day, and double the regular pay rate for hours worked beyond 12.
The federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour (as of May 2017) and can be changed only through an act of Congress. Tipped employees, such as waitstaff and other service industry positions, must be paid at least $2.13 per hour if they make up the difference in tips. If tips fall short of averaging at least the minimum wage in a given pay period, the employer is required to pay up to minimum wage.
Exempt vs. Nonexempt Employees
If you are considered "exempt," it means either the overtime pay provisions or both minimum wage and overtime provisions do not apply to you. Exempt employees are typically salaried employees, seasonal workers, and those who earn more than a certain amount each year. Also, some jobs are considered "exempt" by definition, including "outside sales" employees and exempt executives.
Some professions are exempt from overtime pay only, including (but not limited to) the following:
Children are required to be at least 16 to work in most non-farm jobs, 18 for non-farm jobs considered "hazardous," such as driving a motor vehicles or mining activity. The FLSA does not apply to children who are working as actors, delivering newspapers, or making natural wreaths in the home. There are far fewer restrictions on the hiring of minors for farm labor. For instance, children as young as 10 or 11 may help as hand harvest labor with a waiver by the DOL.
The law allows employers to pay those 20 and younger a "youth minimum wage" of $4.25 per hour for the first 90 consecutive calendar days of employment. Employers also are barred from displacing an employee earning the standard minimum wage by hiring someone at the youth wage.
Enforcement and Recovery of Back Wages
The Wage and Hour Division investigates complaints of violations of the FLSA, with willful violations prosecuted in criminal court as well as civil liability for offending employers. For example, violations of the FLSA's child labor provisions can result in a fine of up to $1,000 for each employee who was the subject of the violation. The agency also may recommend changes that would bring the employer into compliance of the law.
If the agency concludes that an employer violated the law, it will help recover unpaid minimum and/or overtime wages by filing suit against the employer or seeking an injunction to prevent further violation of the law.
Get a Legal Evaluation of Your FLSA-Related Matter
The Fair Labor Standards Act is intended to provide a baseline of protection for employees, including fair wages and reasonable working hours. If you believe your rights have been violated, you may want to speak with an experienced employment law attorney near you.