The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) establishes employer obligations with regard to the federal minimum wage, compensation for overtime, employment of minors, and recordkeeping. Employers throughout the U.S must abide by the provisions in the FLSA. However, individual states often enact stricter standards, which employers in those states must follow. For example, the federal minimum wage remains at $7.25 per hour (the same rate as in 2009) and a paltry $2.13 an hour for tipped employees, where it has languished since 1991. Fortunately for workers, most states (including New Jersey) have established minimum wages that are substantially higher than this.
Despite needing an update to align with today’s cost of living, the FLSA provides important protections to employees across the nation. It was the result of a struggle to establish basic worker rights that spanned two decades and met with crushing blows from the Supreme Court. However, after the 1936 landslide election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who had campaigned on a platform of increasing labor standards, the Court was persuaded to changed direction, clearing the way for protections that we largely take for granted today. Below, we’ll look at what workers the FSLA protects as well as key provisions of the act and how they help safeguard workers’ rights.
Who is covered by the FLSA?
The FLSA applies only to employees, which means independent contractors such as freelance workers are not covered. The act also doesn’t apply to some specific job categories, including live-in home care, agricultural, and railway workers. Additionally, employees in positions such as executive, managerial, and sales who meet certain pay and duty requirements are excluded from FLSA coverage.
Who counts as an “employee”?
Whether a particular worker is properly classified as an employee or an independent contractor under the FLSA is not always clear. There is no single defining test; rather, the Supreme Court has outlined several factors that should be considered when answering this question, including
- Whether the worker’s services are integral to the business that’s hired them
- Whether the relationship is permanent or for a specific duration
- The worker’s ability to make a profit and risk of loss
- Degree of independence in how the worker organizes and conducts their work
- Degree of control exercised over the work by the hiring entity
- Business organization
- Degree to which the worker competes with others in an open market
Here again, some states have provided their own guidance regarding the proper classification of employees and independent contractors. For example, New Jersey’s unemployment compensation law outlines a three-pronged test for this purpose. Unless all three of the following apply, New Jersey workers should be classified as employees:
- The worker is free from control or direction over the performance of their work
- The work is either outside the usual course of business for the hiring entity or performed outside all its places of business for which the service is performed
- The individual is customarily engaged in an independent occupation or business
How does the FSLA protect workers?
The FLSA has several key provisions to ensure a minimum level of compensation, establish a standard number of hours for full-time work, protect children, and require employees to document their employment practices.
As mentioned above, the federal minimum wage for most workers is $7.25 per hour. In addition to the lower rate for tipped workers, the FSLA provides an exception for employees under 20 years of age, allowing employers to pay them just $4.25 for the first 90 calendar days of employment. After that time (or after their 20th birthday, whichever comes first), they must be paid the full minimum wage. Casual babysitters and workers who are properly classified as interns or students (those who are primary beneficiaries of these working relationships) are also exempt from this requirement.
In general, employees who work more than 40 hours per week are entitled to receive 150% of their regular rate of pay for that additional time. However, the FLSA establishes several exceptions to this rule. Examples include
- Employees of seasonal and recreational businesses
- Farm workers
- Sales reps
- Salaried executive and administrative professionals
- Computer professionals
- Transportation workers
- Live-in domestic employees
For executive, administrative, professional and outside sales employees to be exempt from FSLA overtime requirements, they must meet a minimum salary threshold. As of 2020, this was set at $684 per week.
The FLSA also limits the types of jobs and hours that children can work during school and non-school days. In general, children must be at least 14 years old to be employed, and individuals under 18 years old may not be employed for hazardous work, such as operating dangerous equipment. Children younger than 16 generally may not be employed during school hours and are subject to limits on the number of hours they can work, depending on whether school is in session. For information about specific job and age restrictions in the federal law, see this Department of Labor resource for young workers.
Posting & Recordkeeping
Employers are required to post the provisions of the FLSA where employees can readily access it. These are often posted in employee break areas. Additionally, employers must keep records detailing the identities of employees, hours worked, and compensation paid. Records must be kept for a minimum of three years. Requiring employers to keep such records helps protect employees by making it easier to demonstrate when an employer is failing to follow the law.
Any U.S. employee who believes their employer has violated the FLSA can file a complaint with the Wage and Hour Division. However, when you work with an experienced employment attorney, they can ensure your complaint is filed correctly, completely, and within applicable time limits. An attorney can also determine if your employer has violated other laws, such as state employee protections, or may be liable for damages that could be recovered in a civil suit.
The attorneys at the Mark Law Firm have extensive experience in employment law and can help you determine the best way to hold your employer accountable and collect any compensation to which you are entitled. To learn more about your rights at work, subscribe to our blog.