Wage and hour laws exist to protect workers from being exploited by their employers. While the federal government has rules for what hours an employee can work and the minimum amount he or she must be compensated for that work, each state also has its own wage and hour laws. If you are an employer, this section will provide the information you need to ensure that you are not doing anything illegal or operating outside the parameters of these laws.
The federal minimum wage for workers is $7.25 per hour. However, each state also has the ability to set its own minimum wage that is different from the federal minimum wage. Some states choose to have a minimum rate higher than the federal wage, and therefore employers in those states must pay their employees at least the state minimum. In states where the minimum wage is lower than the federal rate, or there is no minimum wage at all, the federal rate would apply.Some types of workers are not subject to minimum wage requirements, including certain professionals, agricultural workers and government employees. Alternative minimum wages may exist for underage employees and employees who receive tips. Each state can set exemptions as to who must receive the minimum wage on top of the federal requirements.
Generally, there are no state or federal laws regarding pay raises. Whether or not a pay raise is given to an employee is up to the company. The only wage increase that is mandatory is if the minimum wage is raised. However, if the employer and employee entered into a contract that stipulated a pay raise, the employer may be held to that promise.
Most workers are required to receive one and a half times their regular pay for any hours worked in a week that exceed 40 under both federal and state law. Employers may not offer anything in exchange for overtime hours, and employees cannot relinquish their right to collect overtime.As with minimum wage, there are exemptions as to who must receive overtime pay. Certain salaried employees may not be eligible to receive overtime. In addition, some salespeople, executives, managers, computer employees and professionals are exempt from overtime requirements.
Breaks and Meals
Employers are not required to provide rest breaks or meal breaks under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. However, some states do have laws providing mandatory meal breaks for employees. If an employer offers a rest break, that break is considered paid work time in some circumstances. If your state does not have a law regarding breaks, it is up to you to reach an agreement with your employees.The Fair Labor Standards Act does, however, require that nursing mothers receive break time to express milk. Employers must also provide a space for its employees to express breast milk. The space must be private, and it cannot be a bathroom. The federal law requires this break for mothers for up to one year after their child is born. Some types of companies and workers may be exempt from this requirement if they meet certain criteria.
Sick leave is a benefit that many employers choose to provide to their employees. However, there is no law that requires them to do so on a state or federal level. Some local municipalities, such as San Francisco, have passed ordinances requiring employers to provide paid sick leave, so you should be sure to know what the law is in your area. Any agreement on sick leave or any other type of paid time off must be reached between the employee and the employer. Employers should be aware that if sick leave is provided for in a contract, including an employee handbook, they are legally obligated to adhere to that policy.
Nearly every state in the country adheres to the doctrine of at-will employment, which says that the employer can fire a worker at any time, for any reason and without notice. However, employers are barred from terminating an employee for discriminatory reasons. Examples of discrimination include firing someone for being pregnant, for being a certain race, for being a specific sex or gender, or for practicing a certain religion. There are both federal and state laws regarding discrimination. Any violation of these laws by an employer could subject it to legal action by the fired employee.Employees are the backbone of most businesses. Knowing and understanding wage and hour laws can help employers retain valuable workers and avoid costly lawsuits.
In-Depth: Wage and Hour Laws by State
Select Your State: A – Z
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
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