The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) provides workers with powerful rights, yet most workers remain unaware of, or harbor misconceptions about, its protections. With the FLSA protecting 135 million workers in 7.3 million establishments nationwide, it is important to separate fact from fiction. Here is an overview of how the FLSA affects workers in Florida and elsewhere.
Fair Labor Standards Act 101
The United States Congress enacted the FLSA in 1938. The Act establishes the following standards for full-time and part-time workers in the private sector and in federal, state, and local government:
- Minimum wage
- Overtime pay
- Record keeping
- Child labor standards
- Special rules apply to state and local government regarding the following:
- Fire protection
- Law enforcement activities
- Volunteer activities
- Compensatory time off instead of cash overtime pay
The Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor administers and enforces FLSA. The U.S. Office of Personnel Management enforces the FLSA for employees of certain Executive Branch agencies. The United States Congress enforces the FLSA for Legislative Branch employees.
The Difference Between Exempt and Nonexempt Employees
The FLSA requires employers to classify employees as either exempt or nonexempt. This classification is important because the FLSA only covers nonexempt employees. Learning the difference is an important first step to understanding the FLSA and how it may apply to you.
Exempt employees are employees to whom employers pay a salary rather than an hourly wage. These types of positions are excluded from minimum wage, overtime regulations, and other rights afforded to nonexempt positions. Some jobs typically classified as exempt are executive and higher-level management positions, professional degree positions (such as doctors, lawyers, and accountants), and positions in outside sales.
Nonexempt employees are employees to whom employers must pay at least the federal minimum wage for hours worked. They must also pay overtime of not less than one-and-a-half times the employee’s hourly rate for hours worked beyond 40 each week.
Worker Rights: Separating Fact from Fiction
Many nonexempt workers whose jobs are covered by the FLSA think they know their rights, but myths and misconceptions are common. Below we separate some facts from fiction about nonexempt workers’ rights under the FLSA.
- Fiction: All states have the same minimum wage.
- Fact: Minimum wage standards vary from state to state, but can’t go below what the FLSA requires.
Nationally, states must follow the federal minimum wage standards. But that only sets the floor. The federal government allows states to raise the minimum wage above the federal level. When the state minimum wage is higher than the federal minimum, the higher wage is the minimum wage that is required in that state.
- Fiction: The FLSA requires paid vacations.
- Fact: No state or federal laws require paid vacations.
Paid time off is a benefit employers provide to attract good candidates. Sick leave and vacation time are privileges, not rights. The same applies to meal and rest periods. Neither is required by the FLSA.
- Fiction: Any hours worked on weekends and holidays qualify for overtime pay.
- Fact: The FLSA does not require premium pay for weekends or holidays.
The FLSA treats weekends and holidays just like any other workday. Of course, if working those days puts you over a 40-hour work week, you are entitled to overtime pay for that time, or that time can earn you compensatory time off. Also, some employers may offer premium wages for weekend and holiday work as a benefit.
- Fiction: A boss must warn you before firing you.
- Fact: The FLSA does not govern how to terminate someone’s employment.
An unexpected firing is upsetting but not illegal unless violates other federal and state laws, however, such as workplace discrimination and whistleblower laws. However, your workplace’s employee discipline policy may require a warning in some cases.
- Fiction: Your boss has to justify your firing to you.
- Fact: The FLSA doesn’t require your boss to offer any reason for firing you.
You can be fired for any reason that isn’t illegal, no matter how minor. Again, however, if your boss has an illegal reason for firing you such as discrimination or retaliation, whether or not he tells you about it, you may have a claim against your employer for damages.
- Fiction: The FLSA requires employers to provide pay raises.
- Fact: The FLSA does not require pay raises.
Employers may offer periodic pay raises as a benefit, of course. But, all that the FLSA requires is that you be paid the minimum wage enacted by Congress. If Congress raises that wage, of course, then your employer must pay it.
- Fiction: Employees under the age of 20 must start at the federal minimum wage.
- Fact: Employers may pay a minimum wage of $4.25 an hour to employees under the age of 20 for the first 90 consecutive calendar days of employment, after which the employee must be paid the full minimum wage.
This is referred to as the youth opportunity wage. It encourages employers to hire younger workers, particularly in seasonal positions. Of course, when the labor market is tight and employers struggle to fill positions, they may offer higher wages to youth workers to attract them.
How the FLSA Affects Tipped Employees
Tipped employees work in occupations where they regularly receive tips of more than $30 a month, such as waiting tables or valet parking. The FSLA’s tip credit provision allows employers to consider tips part of an employee’s wages, but the employer must still pay a minimum of $2.13 an hour in direct wages.
Employers using the tip credit provision must notify employees in advance. The employer must also show that the employee’s direct wages and tip credit allowance combine to meet the applicable minimum wage. An employer must make up the difference when the combined amount is less than the minimum wage.
How the FLSA Affects Workers with Disabilities
The FSLA grants employers the right to pay lower, special minimum wages to people with disabilities. The goal of the special minimum wage (SMW) is to provide employment opportunities for the disabled, including those with developmental challenges, the blind, and workers recovering from substance use disorders.
The Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor permits employers in one of the four approved service areas to pay the SMW:
- Hospitals or residential care facilities
- Work centers (provide employment training and/or rehabilitation services)
- School Work Exploration Programs (Schools place students with disabilities at work sites in the community).
The FLSA does not allow employers in these areas to pay the SMW to a person solely on the basis of that person’s disability. In order for an employer to be permitted to pay an employee the SMW, the employee’s disability must impair their ability to do a job relative to the ability of a non-disabled employee to do the same job. An approved employer must review the disabled worker’s performance and adjust the SMW every six months.
The FLSA is designed to protect you, the hard-working nonexempt employee, against unfair wage and labor practices. From guaranteeing overtime pay to protecting the rights of disabled workers, the FLSA is a complicated yet necessary tool for a successful workforce.
The Dolman Law Group understands the FSLA and how it applies to Florida businesses. If you suspect your employer of misusing or violating the FLSA in New Port Richey, especially if you have not received overtime pay you deserve, call our office at (727) 853-6275 or contact us for a free case evaluation.
Dolman Law Group
5435 Main Street
New Port Richey, FL 34652