NLRA & FLSA: What do they cover?

The National Labor Relations Act of 1935 and the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 were passed during the Great Depression to protect American workers and encourage collective bargaining in the workplace. Union laws like the NLRA give workers the right to join together and petition their employers for higher wages and better working conditions. Employment laws like the FLSA establish a minimum wage and require employers to keep certain records and pay overtime.

Protecting American Workers: The National Labor Relations Act

Lawmakers passed the NLRA to safeguard the economy of the United States by protecting employers and workers from the economic harm caused by labor disputes and strikes. The law ensures that workers are able to organize and negotiate with their employers whether they form a union or not, and it also protects them against unfair treatment from both unions and employers. The provisions of the NLRA allow workers to form a union where none exists and decertify a union that has lost the support of its members. It also sets the rules for collective bargaining and union elections.

Workers Not Covered by the NLRA

Most American workers are covered by the NLRA union laws, but law specifically excludes certain kinds of employers which include:

  • State and federal government agencies
  • Federal Reserve Banks
  • Labor unions
  • Employers subject to the provisions of the Railway Labor Act
  • Private companies that essentially perform municipal functions
  • Religious schools

Unfair Labor Practices Under the NLRA

In order to protect workers and ensure that negotiations between employers and their employees are conducted in good faith, the NLRA defines certain activities as unfair labor practices. Employers may not interfere with workers who are organizing a union or gathering together for the purposes of collective bargaining. The law also prohibits any disciplinary action being taken against workers who organize. Advantages that are offered to employees who choose not to join a union are prohibited as well. Employers may not form their own unions to circumvent collective bargaining, and taking disciplinary action against workers who file grievances with the National Labor Relations Board is prohibited.

The law also places restrictions on the activities of unions. Labor unions are not permitted to coerce workers into becoming members or discipline those who cross picket lines. They may not coerce employers into appointing certain individuals to negotiate labor disputes, and they are not permitted to collude with them to encourage or discourage union membership. Refusing to bargain in good faith, demanding payment for work not performed, and engaging in illegal strikes or boycotts is also prohibited under the 1935 law.

The National Labor Relations Board

When Congress passed the NLRA in 1935, they also created the National Labor Relations Board to administer the law. The independent federal agency is headed by a General Counsel and has a board made up of five members. These appointments are made by the President of the United States. A division of judges, which hears cases involving alleged violations of the NLRA, has the authority to impose sanctions on employers or unions and order workers reinstated or compensated. However, the NLRB cannot become involved in labor disputes or order unions or employers to make concessions. Labor lawyers or workers who feel that their employers or unions are violating the NLRA can file grievances at one of the 26 NLRB offices around the country or at the agency’s Washington, D.C. headquarters.

The Fair Labor Standards Act

This landmark legislation established the 40-hour workweek and federal minimum wage, set the requirements for overtime pay, and put rules into place dealing with the employment of children. The law was passed during a time of great economic hardship when many employers took advantage of high unemployment rates to underpay their workers or otherwise treat them unfairly. Since its passage in the 1930s, the FLSA has been revised many times. Revisions include broadening the scope of the law to cover more types of workers and establishing equal pay for men and women who perform essentially similar tasks. State and local governments and most private-sector employers with annual revenues of $500,000 or more must abide by the terms of the FLSA. However, the law’s minimum wage, child labor, and overtime provisions may apply to workers even when their employers are exempt.


Under the FLSA, wages must be paid either in cash or something, such as a check, that can be converted into cash easily. Employees must be paid at a rate at least equal to the federal minimum wage for all hours worked. Any periods that workers are required to be at work, on duty, or at a designated workplace are considered time worked. When both a state and federal minimum wage apply, workers must be paid at the higher of the two rates. The minimum wage rate is lower if workers usually receive some of their earnings in the form of tips.


The FLSA requires employers to pay their workers a rate of at least one-and-a-half times their regular rate for any hours worked in excess of a 40-hour workweek. The law does not set an upper limit on the number of hours that adult employees can work during a week, and state laws may require employers to pay their workers overtime even when the FLSA does not.

Workers Not Covered by the FLSA

Some workers are not covered by the FLSA due to the nature of the tasks they perform or because of the way they are paid. Classes of worker not covered by the 1938 law include:

  • Individuals who perform managerial, administrative, or professional duties
  • Employees of service or retail establishments who earn commissions
  • Taxi drivers, airline employees, and railroad workers
  • Local delivery workers
  • Crews on American ships
  • Media workers including announcers, reporters, editors, and some engineers
  • Domestic service workers
  • Employees of movie theaters
  • Farmworkers


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