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What Is the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)?

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is a federal law that protects U.S. workers from unfair employment practices regarding their pay. It is an extensive law that governs many aspects of the employer-employee relationship:

  • Minimum wage
  • Overtime requirements
  • Record keeping
  • Child employment

The FLSA doesn’t cover every worker, like volunteers and independent contractors, for example, or certain small business employees.

This article provides an overview of the FLSA. If you think your employer is breaking the law and it’s having an effect on your earnings, you should contact an employment lawyer in your state. An attorney can explain the law and give you advice about your unique circumstances.

The Fair Labor Standards Act and Minimum Wage and Work Time

The FLSA sets the federal minimum wage at $7.25 per hour, although many states have their own minimum wage laws that require a higher wage. 

One exception to the minimum wage is for tipped employees who earn at least $30 per month in tips. Employers can pay those workers below the minimum wage but must make up the difference if the employee’s pay, including tips, is less than the minimum wage.

The FLSA does not consider commuting time to and from work to be work time. Short rest periods, typically 15 to 20 minutes long during the workday, are work time. Longer break periods, such as lunch breaks, are not work time. But if you have to work during a lunch break, your employer must pay you.

The Fair Labor Standards Act and Overtime 

The minimum overtime rate of pay is 1.5 times your regular hourly wage for any work that goes past 40 hours in a workweek. The FLSA does not require overtime pay for holidays, weekends, or regular days off unless working those days exceeds 40 hours for the week.

Employers only have to pay non-exempt employees overtime. Exempt employees fall into the following categories:

  • Executive, administrative, and professional employees earning at least $684 per week
  • Outside sales employees who regularly work someplace other than their employer’s place of business and are primarily paid by commission
  • Computer workers like systems analysts, software engineers, and programmers

The Fair Labor Standards Act’s Recordkeeping Requirements

Employers must keep records regarding their employees, including:

  • Full name, sex, Social Security number, and birthday 
  • Occupation
  • When the workweek begins
  • Hours worked each day and total hours worked each week
  • The regular rate of pay, and if they are paid hourly, per week, or salaried
  • Daily or weekly straight-time earnings and overtime earnings
  • Additions or subtractions from an employee’s wages
  • Total wages paid during each pay period

The Fair Labor Standards Act’s Child Labor Standards

Generally, the FLSA restricts the hours that children under 16 years old can work. It also lists jobs that are too dangerous for minors. Examples of child-labor rules include:

  • For non-farm jobs, children 16 or 17 years old may not perform a hazardous job but can work any number of hours.
  • Children who are 14 or 15 years old may work in non-farm, nonhazardous jobs outside school hours for up to three hours on a school day and 18 hours in a school week. They may work eight hours on a non-school day and 40 hours on a non-school week.
  • The minimum age for most non-farm work is 14 years old, but minors can work certain jobs, such as delivering newspapers.

FLSA Violations and Your Rights

If you suspect that your employer is violating the FLSA, you can file a complaint to the Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Labor Department. Your boss cannot retaliate against you for filing a complaint. Some common violations include:

  • Misclassifying employees as exempt when they are non-exempt: Not all salaried employees are ineligible for overtime. It depends on their job duties and how much they earn.
  • Incorrectly calculating overtime: Employers cannot use a typical two-week pay period to calculate overtime. If you work 50 hours one week and 30 hours the next week, you are still entitled to 10 hours of overtime for the first week. 
  • Travel time violations: Your employer must pay you for travel time that occurs while you’re at work. This includes travel time between worksites.
  • Not paying for work outside of regular work hours: Your employers must pay you for job-related work, no matter when you do the task

Under the FLSA, you can recover back pay for minimum wage and overtime violations. They can also receive an equal amount in compensation. You have two years to file a complaint, and the government can use settlement negotiations, lawsuits, or criminal prosecutions against employers to recover wages. You can also file a private lawsuit, but it’s best to talk over your options with an employment lawyer. 

What the FLSA Doesn’t Cover

There are many more aspects to the employer-employee relationship, but the FLSA doesn’t set any guidelines on them. These include:

  • ​Hours in a workday or workweek: ​The FLSA doesn’t limit the hours that employees older than 16 can work.
  • Break times: The FLSA only requires breaks for nursing mothers. Other laws regarding breaks come from the state level.
  • ​Changing work hours: ​The FLSA doesn’t limit how employers can schedule employees. If there is no state law in place where you live or a prior agreement, your employer can change your work hours without notice.
  • ​Notice for layoffs: ​The FLSA does not cover providing proper notice before making layoffs.
  • ​Defining part-time and full-time: ​The FLSA covers all workers and does not define the terms “part-time” or “full-time” employment.
  • ​Raises: ​The only pay raise covered by the FLSA is when Congress raises the federal minimum wage. 

Get Help From an Employment Law Attorney

If you think your boss isn’t paying you fairly, contact an employment law attorney today. An employment law attorney can explain the FLSA and advise you about your situation. This may include filing a lawsuit or filing a complaint with the government. A lawyer can represent you through either process.

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