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Fair Wages FAQ

In the U.S., there are state and federal laws that protect employees. These laws apply to full-time and part-time workers. One of the protections these laws offer is that employees will receive fair wages for their work.

In this section, we will discuss what these rights are. We'll also explain how these rights apply to you. Read about frequently asked questions (FAQs) below.

Should my employer pay me overtime wages?

There are two sets of overtime laws. You must first determine if your employer falls under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The FLSA is a federal law establishing employees' right to overtime wages. This law guarantees that employers pay 1 1/2 times the hourly rate if an employee works more than 40 hours per week.

For example, imagine that your regular rate of pay is $10/hr. You work 50 hours in a given week. Your employer must pay $15/hour for the extra 10 hours of work.

In addition to the FLSA, most states have labor laws concerning wages and overtime. Review your state's laws if you think your employer has violated your rights to overtime pay. Both the Fair Labor Standards Act and state laws cover various circumstances. Your employer must comply with these laws.

How do I know if my employer falls under the FLSA?

The FLSA protects nonexempt employees. The easiest way to know if you're a nonexempt employee is to ask if your employer pays you hourly or salary. The general rule is that the FLSA covers hourly workers. However, the law offers a three-part test to determine if you are a nonexempt worker.

To be a nonexempt employee, you must satisfy a 3-part test:

  • Salary Level Test: You earn less than $35,568 annually ($684 per week).
  • Salary Basis Test: Your employer pays you by the hour rather than by salary. This means that your company only pays you for the number of hours you work. You do not receive a guaranteed amount each pay period.
  • Duties Test: You do not perform management activities. A good rule of thumb is deciding who is in charge. If you are in charge during a given shift, then the FLSA likely doesn't apply.

Which jobs do not receive overtime under the FLSA?

You can determine whether your employer must pay overtime using the above-mentioned three-part test.

Typical jobs that are not entitled to overtime include:

  • Independent contractors
  • Volunteers
  • Computer specialists
  • Outside salespeople
  • Babysitters and other informal personal companions
  • Amusement park employees
  • Newspaper deliverers
  • Small farm employees

If you don't fall into any of these categories, there's a good chance your employer must pay overtime.

Can my employer pay me less than minimum wage if I receive tips?

In many states, yes. Employers must pay minimum wages to all employees covered by state and federal wage and hour laws. The minimum wage is the higher of the federal minimum wage ($7.25 an hour as of November 2023) or the state minimum wage.

The law is more complicated if you earn tips. Under federal law, if you earn more than $30 in monthly tips, your employer can pay you as little as $2.13 an hour. However, your total rate must equal at least the minimum wage. The U.S. Department of Labor updates the minimum amount every year.

Note that some states, such as California, require employers to pay minimum wage even when employees receive tips. Other states require a wage somewhere in between -- more than $2.13 an hour but less than the state or federal minimum wage.

Does my employer have to pay me if I take a break from work after I have my baby?

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires employers to provide up to 12 workweeks of unpaid leave for one or more of the following reasons:

  • The birth and care of a newborn child
  • Placement of a child through adoption or foster care
  • To care for an immediate family member (spouse, child, or parent) with a severe health condition
  • When an employee is unable to work because of a severe health condition

It's important to note the difference between FMLA and workers' compensation. You will receive replacement wages through workers comp if you injure yourself on the job.

To be eligible to take leave under the FMLA, you must:

  • Work for a covered employer
  • Work 1,250 hours during the 12 months before the start of your leave
  • Work for a company with 50 or more employees
  • Have been with your company for at least 12 months. The 12 months of employment don't have to be consecutive to qualify for FMLA leave.

In addition to the FMLA, many states have similar laws that allow employees to take unpaid time off for pregnancies. To learn more about the FMLA, visit the Department of Labor website.

Should my employer pay me for mandatory training?

Yes. If your employer requires that you attend training, they must pay you for your time. Common examples include mandatory orientation and sexual harassment training, which includes travel time if the training is off-site.

The National Guard is deploying me. Will I still have my job when my deployment is over?

The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) protects your reemployment rights when you return from service in the military. This includes people in the Reserves or National Guard.

The USERRA prohibits employment discrimination against people in the military. Companies must reemploy returning service members in the job they would have if they hadn't been absent for military service.

The employee must receive the same seniority, status, and pay. Employers must also provide all other employment rights and benefits. This includes sick leave and vacation pay.

Can my spouse take time off to help prepare for my deployment?

The law doesn't require your employer to give you time off to help prepare for your spouse's deployment. However, many businesses offer this type of leave.

Can my employer require me to take my unpaid breaks?

Federal law does not require breaks unless you're a minor. When employers offer short breaks (usually 15 minutes), federal law considers the breaks as compensable work hours. Your employer must include these breaks in your work week. They must also include these hours for overtime purposes.

What counts as a half day of work?

If your regular shift is eight hours, a half day would be a four-hour shift. If your employer requires you to take an unpaid lunch, it does not count toward your four-hour half-day shift.

For example, let's say you usually work an eight-hour shift. Your shift includes a half-hour, unpaid lunch break. If you start your half-day shift at 9 am, your half-day shift will end at 1 pm.

Can I take time off work to vote?

Typically, yes. This is especially true if you would otherwise be unable to vote. Almost every state has laws requiring employers to give employees time off to vote. However, most states require that you provide your employer notice that you need the time off.

Can I take time off of work for safety reasons?

In some states, employees can take time off for other, more personal reasons. These reasons may include:

  • To get counseling or medical attention
  • Domestic violence issues
  • Restraining orders
  • Acquiring new housing

State laws vary when it comes to these situations.

What should I do if my employer violates these laws?

Most employers abide by state and federal laws regarding work hours and wages. You should contact an experienced employment attorney if this isn't the case. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you.

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