Wage-and-Hour Laws

When you do a day’s work, you expect fair compensation. Unfortunately, employers have more bargaining power because they hold the money. Even if they agreed to pay you a certain wage, they may not pay up when the time comes.

State and federal wage-and-hour laws protect U.S. workers. These employment laws guarantee minimum standards for workers. They also provide a way for you to get what’s owed to you if your employer doesn’t pay.

Wage-and-hour laws can depend on where you live. If your employer is violating your rights by failing to pay what they owe, talk to a wage-and-hour lawyer to find out how you can get back pay and interest on unpaid wages.

What Are Wage-and-Hour Laws?

Wage-and-hour laws provide a minimum pay rate when employers have to pay workers overtime. These labor laws set minimum standards for employers and provide a right to take action if your employer violates federal and state laws.

Under federal law, the minimum wage (as of April 2024) is $7.25 per hour. However, many state minimum wages are higher than the federal minimum. Some cities and counties also have higher minimum wage laws. Workers in these areas receive the higher wage rate. In some states, tipped employees can have a lower minimum hourly rate.

Under federal law, if your hours of work in a workweek top 40 hours, you get overtime pay at one and one-half your regular rate of pay.

Who Enforces Minimum Wage and Overtime Laws?

The primary federal law that covers wages and hourly work conditions is the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). This sets the federal minimum wage, overtime pay rules, recordkeeping, and child labor laws. Employers have to display an official poster outlining FLSA requirements.

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) Wage and Hour Division (WHD) enforces wage-and-hour laws at the federal level. At the state level, each state has an equivalent department. These federal government and state agencies may regulate minimum standards for:

  • Rest breaks
  • Meal breaks
  • Prevailing wages for immigrant workers
  • Work limits for minors

Can You File a Lawsuit for Back Pay and Unpaid Wages?

When you leave a job, your employer has to pay for any work you performed before you left. In some states, the employer has to give you your final paycheck immediately. If your employer doesn’t pay or you notice wage-and-hour violations, you likely have a few options.

You can file a complaint with your state labor department. If your employer is in violation, they may have to pay your withheld wages and additional penalties. You may also be eligible for liquidated damages, which are double the amount of unpaid wages. You may also be able to collect reasonable attorney fees.

Do Wage-and-Hour Laws Apply to Salaried Workers?

The FLSA provides an exemption to some wage-and-hour protections for certain salaried workers. This includes executive, administrative, professional, and outside sales employees. White-collar exemptions are for workers paid on a salary basis instead of hourly.

Some employers may try to use this exemption to pay workers a salary that is below the minimum wage. To qualify for an exemption, your job must meet certain requirements, and the salary cannot be less than $684 per week. Your title alone does not determine your exemption status. Exemptions are based on job duties.

Salaried employee classification may also depend on state wage-and-hour laws. Some states classify salaried workers as either exempt or non-exempt employees.

Do Independent Contractors Get Overtime?

Independent contractors are not considered employees. As an independent contractor, you don’t get the same protections as employees, including minimum wage, overtime, and benefits. However, some employers misclassify workers as independent contractors to avoid paying benefits and overtime.

There are several factors that determine the misclassification of a contractor or employee. This includes:

  • The level of control the company has over you and how you do your job
  • Your financial role, including reimbursement of expenses and who provides tools and supplies
  • The type of contract and business relationship you have with the company

How Can a Wage-and-Hour Law Attorney Help?

Many workers who know they weren’t paid fairly just give up because they think it’s not worth the effort to get back pay. However, you shouldn’t let your employer get away with non-payment of wages for the time you worked. Holding your employer accountable is a way to get paid and make sure they don’t do it to others.

You may also be able to get reasonable attorney fees if you file a wage claim. An experienced wage-and-hour lawyer can handle your case and your former employer will have to pay their legal fees. In some cases, you can get double damages for unpaid wages. Most attorneys will give you a free consultation for wage-and-hour violation claims. 

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