Wage-hour rights consist of:
- Federal overtime and minimum wage law which is known as the Fair Labor Standards Act (or FLSA). The law requires:
- overtime at the rate of time and one-half for all hours actually worked over 40 except where a specific exemption applies – even if you are paid a salary.
- employees covered by the Act must be paid the minimum wage of $7.25 per hour worked.
- State overtime and minimum wage laws may provide additional protections or a higher minimum wage rate. Look up the state minimum wage in your state.
- Other state protections vary by state.
- Payment of the promised wage
- payment when due
- pay statements
- rest breaks and days off
Common misconceptions about these laws are:
- Salaried workers are not entitled to overtime. (sometimes, but not always)
- If the employer says I’m not entitled to overtime, the employer knows the law (many times employers have no idea, or are mistaken, about what the law requires; other employers misinform workers in order to cheat them)
- Undocumented immigrants are not entitled to minimum wage or overtime (never true).
- There is no record of the hours I worked, so I can’t sue (not true as courts will hear worker testimony of the hours they worked when an employer fails to record all hours worked).
These laws generally can be enforced by workers two ways:
- Bringing a claim
- Making a complaint to the federal or state Department of Labor.
Complaining to the federal or state Departments of Labor has the advantage of being anonymous, but it generally poses several other disadvantages:
- Departments of Labor are bureaucracies that have no obligation to pursue a case. Investigators are often overworked and layers of approval may be required to take action. In some cases, the concerns of workers are not a priority. The effect is that agencies are often slow.
- The worker may lose control over their case, which can sometimes be settled on terms over which they have no say.
- Employer lawyers are regular players before these agencies and the companies and its attorneys may have political clout. Many states view businesses as their main constituency, rather than workers. Sometimes companies have managed to “capture” the agency that was originally intended to regulate companies.
Claims can be lost if not brought within a specific period (called the “statute of limitation”) and making a complaint to an agency does not remove the statute of limitation on later bringing a case to court.
Exploitative working conditions and wage hour violations exist everywhere in our current economic system. Click here to see a list of some industries where violations are particularly common.