Overview of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)
Fair Labor Standards Act Overview
The Fair Labor Standards Act, commonly abbreviated as the FLSA, is the main law that regulates labor and wages in the United States. Introduced by President Roosevelt in 1938, the FLSA is currently enforced and overseen by the Wage and Hour Division (WHD) of the United States Department of Labor.
The FLSA establishes a federal minimum wage, mandates overtime pay, sets employers' recordkeeping requirements, and creates child labor laws that apply to full-time and part-time workers in the private sector as well as those in Federal, State, and local governments. Here is an overview of some of the major provisions of this cornerstone piece of labor law.
Basic Wage Standards: The Federal Minimum Wage
The Fair Labor Standards Act establishes a federal minimum wage rate, which is the lowest hourly wage that can be paid to covered employees for their labor. The federal minimum wage is increased periodically through an act of Congress in order to compensate for inflation and rising costs of living. The federal minimum wage is currently $7.25 per hour, and has not been changed since 2009.
The federal minimum wage applies as a base law in all 50 states plus the District of Columbia. States and local governments can establish their own labor laws and minimum wages, which will take precedence if they are higher or more restrictive than Federal labor law. The majority of states have established their own minimum wage rates, which can be found in our minimum wage by state section.
Minimum Wages for Tipped Employees
Under the FLSA, an employee engaged in an occupation in which they customarily receive more than $30.00 in tips per month is considered to be a "tipped employee". Federal law allows the employers of tipped employees to claim a "tip credit" for that employee's received tips against the required minimum wage rate, which can result in the employer paying as little as $2.13 per hour in cash wages.
The employee's received tips plus the cash wage paid must equal or exceed the applicable minimum wage rate for any given hour. Many individual states have their own restrictions on permitted tip credits, and some (like California and Nevada) do not allow tip credits at all. You can find the full list of state tipped minimum wage provisions here.
Exemptions from the Minimum Wage
The FLSA allows for certain exemptions to minimum wage law. Minors, students, and employees with a physical or mental disability may be paid under the minimum wage in certain situations, if the employer has a certificate from the DOL. Other employees or jobs are completely exempt from FLSA coverage, including the minimum wage. Details of these exemptions can be found on the minimum wage exemptions page.
Overtime Pay Laws
The FLSA requires that all overtime-covered employees be paid an overtime wage of 1.5 times their normal hourly wage for all hours worked over 40 in a single week's time. This is called "overtime pay", or "time-and-a-half pay".
Overtime pay for covered employees is only required after 40 hours per week. The FLSA does not require overtime pay for work on Saturdays, Sundays, holidays, or regular days of rest, unless overtime hours are worked on such days. There are also no requirements for overtime pay if over a certain number of hours a day are worked, although some states do have daily overtime provisions.
Employees Exempt from Overtime Law
Overtime law is generally meant to cover hourly, blue-collar employees. Executive, administrative, and professional employees are exempt from overtime provisions, as are outside salespeople, farm workers and certain seasonal employees. You can learn more about exempt employees on the minimum wage and overtime exemptions page.
Child Labor Regulations
The FLSA establishes base regulations of child labor that are designed to protect the educational opportunities of school-age children. Federal child labor laws regulate permitted working hours for minors, the total amount that can be worked, as well as a a list of hazardous occupations that minors are not permitted to engage in.
Non-Farm Child Labor
Under Federal law, minors age fourteen and over may work in permitted occupations during permitted hours. The federal government does not require minors to have age certificates or work permits (though many states do), and exempts jobs like newspaper delivery and work in the entertainment business from federal child labor regulations.
The following restrictions are established by the FLSA for child labor in non-farming occupations:
- Youths 18 years or older may perform any job, whether hazardous or not, for unlimited hours;
- Minors 16 and 17 years old may perform any nonhazardous job, for unlimited hours; and
- Minors 14 and 15 years old may work outside school hours in various nonmanufacturing, nonmining, nonhazardous jobs under the following conditions: no more than 3 hours on a school day, 18 hours in a school week, 8 hours on a non-school day, or 40 hours in a non-school week. Also, work may not begin before 7 a.m., nor end after 7 p.m., except from June 1 through Labor Day, when evening hours are extended to 9 p.m. Under a special provision, youths 14 and 15 years old enrolled in an approved Work Experience and Career Exploration Program (WECEP) may be employed for up to 23 hours in school weeks and 3 hours on school days (including during school hours). In addition, academically oriented youths enrolled in an approved Work-Study Program (WSP) may be employed during school hours.
Agricultural Child Labor
Farming-related jobs have less strict restrictions on working hours than general child labor regulations. The following rules apply to child labor in agricultural occupations:
- Minors 16 years and older may perform any job, whether hazardous or not, for unlimited hours;
- Minors 14 and 15 years old may perform any nonhazardous farm job outside of school hours;
- Minors 12 and 13 years old may work outside of school hours in nonhazardous jobs, either with a parent's written consent or on the same farm as the parent(s);
- Minors under 12 years old may perform jobs on farms owned or operated by parent(s), or with a parent's written consent, outside of school hours in nonhazardous jobs on farms not covered by minimum wage requirements.
Employer Recordkeeping Requirements
The FLSA establishes a number of recordkeeping requirements that must be adhered to by all employers covered by the law. While the method of recordkeeping is not mandated and timeclocks are not required, employers are required to keep an accurate record of hours worked, wages paid, and other information for all employees. The information required to be kept on covered employees includes:
- personal information, including employee's name, home address, occupation, sex, and birth date if under 19 years of age;
- hour and day when workweek begins;
- total hours worked each workday and each workweek;
- total daily or weekly straight-time earnings;
- regular hourly pay rate for any week when overtime is worked;
- total overtime pay for the workweek;
- deductions from or additions to wages;
- total wages paid each pay period; and
- date of payment and pay period covered.
Mandatory Labor Law Posters
The FLSA requires that all covered employers display approved Department of Labor posters that contain information on FLSA provisions including overtime, minimum wage, and child labor laws. Mandatory Federal posters can be found on the Federal labor law posters page, or purchased using the link below.
No Regulation of Pay Raises, Working Hours and Breaks
The FLSA does not contain any provisions regulating pay raises, maximum working hours for adults, or mandatory vacation / workday breaks. Non-covered topics include the following:
- vacation, holiday, severance, or sick pay;
- meal or rest periods, holidays off, or vacations;
- premium pay for weekend or holiday work;
- pay raises or fringe benefits; or
- a discharge notice, reason for discharge, or immediate payment of final wages to terminated employees.
The FLSA does, however, require nursing breaks for mothers, and many states have their own labor laws that mandate lunch breaks or other breaks during the workday.
Enforcement of the Fair Labor Standards Act
The Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor actively enforces the provisions of the FLSA, and employers who do not comply are subject to fines or criminal penalties.
Employees Can Apply For Back Wages & Damages
The Department of Labor works with employees to recover back wages plus an equal amount in liquidated damages where minimum wage and overtime violations are discovered. Generally, a 2-year statute of limitations applies to the recovery of back wages and liquidated damages. A 3-year statute of limitations applies in cases involving willful violations by the employer.
The DOL will attempt to negotiate with the employer on the employee's behalf for a settlement, and if this fails they may file suit on the employee's behalf for back wages, damages, and civil money penalties where appropriate. Employers who willfully or repeatedly violate minimum wage or overtime pay requirements are subject to civil money penalties for each violation.
Retribution By Employers For Filing An FLSA Claim Is Illegal
Employees who believe their employer is violating labor law can contact the Department of Labor for help in addressing the problem and receiving back wages.
Employees who have filed complaints or provided information cannot be discriminated against or discharged on account of such activity. If adverse action is taken against an employee for engaging in protected activity, the affected employee or the Secretary of Labor may file suit for relief, including reinstatement to his/her job, payment of lost wages, and damages.
Full Text of the FLSA: https://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/statutes/FairLaborStandAct.pdf
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