The federal law covering wage and hour issues is the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). FLSA sets minimum wage, defines who is eligible under overtime pay requirements, and more. States also have laws covering wage and hour. A local employment attorney can tell you which laws apply in your case, whether you are exempt or nonexempt under the FLSA protections you are seeking, and help you understand whether you and your coworkers have a viable wage and hour claim.
FLSA set minimum wage at $7.25 per hour, as of July 24, 2009. States may set their own minimum wage, and nonexempt workers are always entitled to the higher of the two.
Tipped employees are defined as those who receive at least $30 per month in tips. If you are a tipped employee your employer can pay you as little as $2.13 per hour, but your hourly wage, when you combine what your employer pays and the tips you earn, must still total at least the minimum wage. So, if you worked 20 hours at $2.13 per hour, you must have received at least $102.40 in tips to add up to the federal minimum wage.
Additionally, a lower hourly rate for tipped employees is prohibited in some states.
Nonexempt employees who work in excess of 40 hours in a workweek are entitled to overtime pay which is time and a half for every hour over the initial 40 hours.
One way that some employers try to cheat employees out of fair pay is by improperly defining hours worked or time for which they are entitled to pay.
- Off the clock. Your employer cannot require you to work “off the clock” to avoid paying you for hours worked or prevent you from accumulating overtime. This means if you work later than you were scheduled to work, your employer must pay you for all of your time.
- Breaks and meals. Your employer does not have to pay for bona fide meal periods which are at least 30 minutes long and during which you are completely relieved from all work duties, including simply being available to stop eating and perform a task. Your employer must pay for your meal time if you are not fully relieved from duty and is required to pay for short breaks, generally 20 minutes or less.
- Waiting time. Your employer does not have to pay you for time when you are “waiting to be engaged” but does have to pay for time when you have been “engaged to wait”. So, if you choose to arrive at work early and sit and read a book until it is your scheduled time to work, you were waiting to be engaged and do not get paid for that wait time. However, if you are told to arrive at a certain time and you sit and read a book while you are waiting to be assigned a task, you have been engaged to wait and are entitled to payment.
- Other types of work hours can include certain types of travel time, lectures, meetings, training activities, and sleeping time when on duty.