The United States Congress establishes labor laws to protect the interests and well-being of employers and employees. These rules are enforced by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), which oversees American employers and guarantees workers’ rights.
The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) establishes duties for private and public employers for paying their workers. 29 USC 201 et al The FLSA applies to part-time, full-time, probationary, and temporary employees and establishes child labor rules. It does not apply to independent contractors, who are not considered employees.
The FLSA classifies the workforce into two categories for payment purposes. The two classifications are exempt and non-exempt. The FLSA applies differently depending on how you are classified. Additionally, the FLSA has record-keeping requirements. The FLSA ensures the protection of workers’ rights so that employees are compensated fairly for their time.
It is also important to note that the FLSA may not be the only regulation that applies in the workplace. Many American state and local governments have enacted their own labor standards to support or enhance the FLSA. Some have higher wages, more stringent overtime rules, and different child labor regulations with which employers must also comply. 29 CFR 541.4 When state laws differ from federal laws, employers are required to follow the rule that offers the greatest possible benefit to their employees, such as the highest wage or greatest amount of paid leave.
Read on for more legal information about the FLSA and how it applies to your workplace.
Current Minimum Wages
The current federal minimum is $7.25 per hour.
The current federal minimum for tipped employees is $2.13 per hour.
State minimum wages vary widely, ranging from $5.15 to $15.00 as of 2022. The states with the highest minimum wages are California, Washington, and Massachusetts, and the states with the lowest minimum wages are Georgia and Wyoming. Some states (Tennessee, Louisiana, Alabama, South Carolina, Mississippi) do not specify a minimum wage at all.
If a state’s minimum wage is less than the federal minimum wage or is unspecified, then the federal rate of $7.25 would apply. Unless you are a tipped worker, you are always guaranteed at least $7.25 an hour.
There is no minimum number of people that must be on your payroll before your company is responsible to comply with federal standards. However, some members of the workforce are exempt in whole or in part from the FLSA. Those exemptions are discussed immediately below.
Employers do not need to pay the mandated rates if bona fide statutory exemptions apply. The FLSA provides for two categories of exemptions: (1) those that exempt employees from both minimum wage and overtime and (2) those that exempt them from only overtime. Visit our Exemptions page to learn more.
It’s important for employers and employees to thoroughly understand exemptions to avoid maltreatment and discrimination. Employers may face stringent consequences if they do not comply with the FLSA’s exemption requirements. Currently, misclassification is one of the most active areas of enforcement for the United States Department of Labor (DOL).
Companies that improperly classify their employees as exempt are generally required to reimburse them for the income lost due to improper classification. Employers may also be subject to criminal prosecution in the courts and fines and penalties up to $10,000 or $1,000 per violation depending on the willfulness of the violation. For this reason, employers should take care to follow best practices when it comes to the FLSA.
Resources on Exemptions:
For those who are non-exempt, the FLSA governs wages. Currently, the standard federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. (To see state rates, click here). Individuals under the age of 20 may be paid not less than $4.25 per hour for the first ninety (90) consecutive calendar days of employment. The ninety (90) consecutive calendar days include both days worked and days not worked. This rate applies to salaried and hourly, as well as temporary workers, and some others.
Failure to comply with these laws can result in monetary penalties and imprisonment depending on the gravity and willfulness of the violation. For this reason, employers should ensure that they understand and closely follow the regulations established by the FLSA.
Under the FLSA, there are no limits to the time you may be required to work in one workday or one workweek. However, you are required to pay employees one and a half times their regular rate of pay for all hours worked in a workweek in excess of 40 unless they are otherwise exempt. 29 CFR 778.107. Conversely, as long as a non-exempt employee does not work more than 40 hours in a workweek, you are not required to pay extra wages even if they work more than eight hours in one day or on a holiday, a Saturday, or a Sunday.
Thus, in order to calculate the wages owed to a particular worker, you must first determine the staff member’s regular rate and time worked during the applicable work period(s). They may be owed more if they work more than 40 hours a week, but not necessarily if they work longer days, holidays, or weekends. You should cross-check these rules with your state and local laws to ensure you are in compliance with all labor laws.
Employers may offer contracts that provide a greater obligation for compensation than the FLSA requires. Work contracts are legally binding, meaning you must pay the amount stated in the contract, given that the other terms of the contract are met. If contracts or other federal, state, or local regulations impose higher pay than the FLSA, these rules may apply instead. 29 CFR 778.102. For example, whenever the state’s minimum wage is higher than the federal minimum wage, you are required to pay the higher amount to your employees. Click here to find out more about State Laws.
Also, private-sector employers are prohibited from avoiding paying overtime by awarding exempt employees who work on an hourly basis with compensatory time. However, the FLSA does permit public agencies to award compensatory time under certain circumstances. Compensatory time refers to allowing someone to work less time in one workweek to make up for the excess time they worked in a different workweek. Thus, if a private employee works more than 40 hours one week, you cannot avoid paying them for that applicable workweek by having them work less the next week — but you may be allowed to do so if you are a public entity.
Federal law does not require breaks, but many state and local laws do. When you do get one, however, the FLSA typically requires that you be paid for this time. It also counts this time toward the number of hours you worked that week. These are usually 20 minutes or less. Meal periods are different and typically last 30 minutes or longer. You are not required to be compensated for meal periods under the FLSA, though some states may establish their own rules regarding meals and breaks. For more detailed information on break times, visit the U.S. Department of Labor’s official website.
Many people have questions about how the FLSA applies during the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, are workers owed wages for time lost during COVID-19? It’s important to clarify your questions to avoid worker maltreatment or discrimination, as well as to ensure compliance with the FLSA. Read on for more info about how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected labor laws.
As usual, the FLSA applies during the pandemic — but only to those workers who are non-exempt. It does not apply to independent contractors, volunteers, or others who are considered exempt employees under the FLSA.
Generally speaking, the FLSA only requires that you be paid for the time you actually worked at your job. This means that, in most cases, you are not entitled to compensation if you are furloughed, if your shifts are reduced, or if you are unable to work due to COVID-19. However, you are still entitled to payment for any time spent working from home, or “teleworking,” including overtime.
Previously, employers were required under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) to provide paid sick leave to workers quarantining due to COVID-19. This specific rule expired on December 31, 2020; however, tax credits may be available to businesses and agencies who voluntarily provide paid leave to those in quarantine due to illness or exposure.
Some jobs may require their staff to undergo mandatory health checks, such as temperature screening or COVID testing. Under the FLSA, businesses are required to pay individuals for these health checks if they are necessary to perform their work duties. For example, a nurse may not be able to safely and effectively perform her job by interacting with patients if she does not undergo health screenings. If these health checks are essential to your duties, then the payment you are entitled to include both the time spent waiting for and the time spent undergoing health checks during the pandemic.
You may have additional state or local obligations or those specified in your employment contract. In order to learn more about the FLSA and COVID-19, visit the U.S. Department of Labor’s FAQ page on their official website.
The FLSA governs the work of minors (youth under 18 years of age) to ensure the health, safety, and well-being of children in the workforce. For more information, visit our Fair Labor Standard Act’s Child Labor page.
Some people may be paid tipped wages under the FLSA. These are reduced minimum wages paid to workers in service industries where they receive tips. The current federal tipped wage rate is $2.13. The standards for tipped wages under the FLSA are discussed on our Tipped Wages page.
“Hours worked” is the term used to distinguish between paid and unpaid time in the workplace. To learn more, visit our Hours Worked page.
“Travel time” refers to time spent commuting to and from locations on the job. To learn more, visit our Travel Time page.
“Waiting time” refers to time spent on the clock that is not spent doing job duties. To learn more, visit our Waiting Time page.
“On-call time” refers to the time when you are required to be available to perform job duties when needed, even if you are not in the office. To learn more, visit our On-Call Time page.
“Sleeping time” refers to the time when employees are required to be on-premises but may be asleep. To learn more, visit our Sleeping Time page.
Meeting and Training Time
“Meeting and training time” refers to time spent in meetings or training, rather than performing one’s job duties. To learn more, visit our Meeting and Training Time page.
“Show-up time” refers to times when a person may show up to their job when they are not needed. To learn more, visit our Show Up Time page.
Suffered or Permitted to Work
“Suffered or permitted to work” is the term used to describe the time when an employee works outside designated hours without explicit permission, though the employer has reason to know they are doing so. To learn more, visit our Suffered or Permitted to Work page.