Employee Benefits Required by Law
In difficult economic times, most people are grateful for work. Most of us expect to work harder and to forgo bonuses and other perks. However, there are certain benefits to which all employees are entitled to by law and that should not be negotiable.
The Fair Labor Standards Act provides that a federally established minimum wage shall be provided to workers in the public and private sectors. From July 2008 –July 2009 the minimum wage is set at $6.55 per hour and that rate is set to rise to $7.25 per hour on July 24, 2009. Some states also have minimum wage laws. If an employee is covered by both the federal and state minimum wage laws then, pursuant to federal law, the employee is entitled to the higher of the two wages.
There are certain exceptions to the minimum wage requirement. Employees who earn, or expect to earn, at least $30 per month in tips are not required to receive minimum wage. Instead, their employers can opt to pay them $2.13 an hour and let them keep their tips. Employees under the age of 20 may be paid a reduced minimum wage of $4.25 an hour for their first 90 consecutive days on the job. Similarly, students who are working for school credit and disabled people who are working for community involvement may be exempt from minimum wage requirements.
Hours and Overtime
Federal law does not limit the number of hours that an employee can work each week. However, it does set a standard week at 40 hours and it requires an employer to pay employees overtime for any hours worked in excess of 40 hours in a given week. Overtime pay is defined as at least 1 1/2 times what the employee makes during a regular hour.
While some employers customarily pay overtime for work on weekends and holidays it is not required by federal law unless the employee works more than 40 hours in that given week.
Additionally, employees are usually entitled to certain breaks depending on the number of hours worked on any given day. The number of breaks and their duration are set by state law. While each state is different, many states do require at least a 15 minute paid break and a 30 minute unpaid meal break per 6-8 hour shift.
State law and employment or union contracts may provide employees with certain amounts of paid time off for situations such as illness, the birth of a baby or the bereavement of a family member.
The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) applies to certain employees who have worked for their employers for specific amounts of time and whose employers also qualify under the Act. Those who qualify are entitled to up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for illness, to help a sick family member or for the birth or adoption of a baby.
While broad discretion is given to employers to negotiate their own employment terms, certain basic rights are provided by law to employees to help make sure that they are provided a living wage and humane working conditions.