Getting Paid Lower than Minimum Wage Minimum Wage Exemptions Under the FLSA

Unknown to many American workers, the Department of Labor has specified dozens of exemptions to Federal minimum wage law. While many of these exemptions are designed to protect employers, they have still been the center of hot debate for decades. Who can get paid less then minimum wage, and why?

Farm workers, seasonal workers, other exempt jobs

The Federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) has declared certain jobs, including farm workers, seasonal workers, newspaper deliverers, "informal" workers (babysitters, etc) and a variety of others exempt from both state and federal minimum wage law. You can find more exempt jobs at the full list of minimum wage exemptions below. These exemptions are intended to allow certain types of business to hire workers for temporary or high-volume positions that they otherwise could not afford to fill, thus helping the economy by creating more jobs.

Tipped employees

Any worker who earns regular tips (specified as earning at least $30 in tips a month by the FLSA) is eligible for a special tipped minimum wage rate. Employers are permitted to pay tipped employees an hourly cash wage of as little as $2.13/hr- however, if this wage and the tips earned during that hour do not add up to at least the applicable minimum wage, the employer must make up the difference in cash. Thus, tipped employees are guaranteed to earn at least minimum wage, and can earn more then minimum wage in tips.

Minors and young workers

The "Youth Minimum Wage Program" allows young workers under the age of 20 to be paid a special minimum wage of $4.25 per hour for the first 90 days of employment with any employer. After the first 90 days have passed (or when the employee turns 20, whichever comes first) the employee must be given a raise to the full minimum wage. This exemption is designed to serve as a "training program" for young workers, although many workers and organizations see it as unnecessary and unfair.

Full time and vocational students

Many exemptions apply to student workers, both from high school and college. Certain employers, including retail or service stores, agriculture, or colleges and universities, are permitted to pay full time students as little as 85% of the minimum wage as long as they are registered students (the business must get a certificate allowing them to do so from the Department of Labor under the "Full-Time Student Program"). Furthermore, the "Student-Learner Program" allows any student age 16 or older and enrolled in a vocational school to be hired for as little as 75% of the regular minimum wage (employers must also have a certificate from the DOL). These exceptions are designed to allow businesses to hire inexperienced workers at a reduced rate, and are meant to be an "educational program" for the student workers.

Employees with disabilities

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, any employer can pay sub-minimum wage to any worker with a physical or mental disability that affects the amount and/or quality of their work. Employers must apply for a certificate from the Department of Labor allowing them to hire disabled workers at sub-minimum wage rates. This program is designed to help disabled workers get jobs by making hiring them more attractive to potential employers.

Minimum wage exempt organizations

Certain nonprofit and educational organizations can apply for a certificate from the Department of Labor allowing them to hire workers for as little as 85% of the applicable minimum wage. This is commonly used by colleges and universities, as well as nonprofit organizations.


List of Minimum Wage Exemptions Full List of Exemptions to Minimum Wage & Labor Laws

The Federal Department of Labor has published the following list of exceptions to minimum wage and overtime wage laws. If your job is listed as exempt from minimum wage law, then your employer is not required by law to pay you at or over federal or state minimum wage.

Exemptions from Both Minimum Wage and Overtime Pay:

  1. Executive, administrative, and professional employees (including teachers and academic administrative personnel in elementary and secondary schools), outside sales employees, and employees in certain computer-related occupations (as defined in DOL regulations);
  2. Employees of certain seasonal amusement or recreational establishments, employees of certain small newspapers, seamen employed on foreign vessels, employees engaged in fishing operations, and employees engaged in newspaper delivery;
  3. Farmworkers employed by anyone who used no more than 500 "man-days" of farm labor in any calendar quarter of the preceding calendar year;
  4. Casual babysitters and persons employed as companions to the elderly or infirm.

Exemptions from Overtime Pay Only:

  1. Certain commissioned employees of retail or service establishments; auto, truck, trailer, farm implement, boat, or aircraft sales-workers; or parts-clerks and mechanics servicing autos, trucks, or farm implements, who are employed by non-manufacturing establishments primarily engaged in selling these items to ultimate purchasers;
  2. Employees of railroads and air carriers, taxi drivers, certain employees of motor carriers, seamen on American vessels, and local delivery employees paid on approved trip rate plans;
  3. Announcers, news editors, and chief engineers of certain non-metropolitan broadcasting stations;
  4. Domestic service workers living in the employer's residence;
  5. Employees of motion picture theaters; and
  6. Farmworkers.

Partial Exemptions from Overtime Pay:

  1. Partial overtime pay exemptions apply to employees engaged in certain operations on agricultural commodities and to employees of certain bulk petroleum distributors.
  2. Hospitals and residential care establishments may adopt, by agreement with their employees, a 14-day work period instead of the usual 7-day workweek if the employees are paid at least time and one-half their regular rates for hours worked over 8 in a day or 80 in a 14-day work period, whichever is the greater number of overtime hours.
  3. Employees who lack a high school diploma, or who have not attained the educational level of the 8th grade, can be required to spend up to 10 hours in a workweek engaged in remedial reading or training in other basic skills without receiving time and one-half overtime pay for these hours. However, the employees must receive their normal wages for hours spent in such training and the training must not be job specific.
  4. Public agency fire departments and police departments may establish a work period ranging from 7 to 28 days in which overtime need only be paid after a specified number of hours in each work period.

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