Employee Labor Laws and How to Find Them

Employees want to know their rights under labor laws. Every day workers perform online searches regarding compensation, breaks, overtime and wages. Where do they look? Most of the answers can be found within the Fair Labor Standards Act, OSHA standards and State regulations. It can be confusing. This article provides an overview of some of these standards, as there may be more rules specific to profession or circumstance that apply.
Here is a breakdown of the most frequently searched topics by the working public.

Employee Lunch Hour

Under the Department of Labor and the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), there are several federal and state regulations pertaining to the rights of workers in addition to the right to a safe and healthful work environment. First, one of the most popular questions revolves around breaks and meal periods. According to the Fair Labor Standards Act, there is no federal requirement for breaks and meal periods. However, some states may have requirements for breaks and meal periods.

For example, the state of California requires that the employee be given ½ hour after 5 hours except when the workday will be completed in 6 hours or less. Connecticut requires ½ hour breaks after the first 2 hours and before the last 2 hours for employees who work 7 ½ consecutive hours or more, while Nevada requires one ½ hour break if work is continuous for 8 hours. There are some exemptions from this. To find out if you have state law regarding breaks and meal periods, click here: http://www.dol.gov/whd/state/meal.htm.

Restroom Breaks

Sanitation standards for restroom breaks are generally covered by OSHA, but mostly by interpretation. The OSHA standards for bathroom usage is under 29 CFR 1910.141(c)(l)(i) and states that employers are required to provide their employees with toilet facilities separated for each sex in all places of employment. This standard is interpreted by OSHA to say that “employees will not suffer adverse health effects that can result if toilets are not available when employees need them. Individuals vary significantly in the frequency…” and explains that many factors can affect the frequency including the fact that medical studies show women need to urinate more frequently than men. To read more of the interpretation, click here:  http://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=INTERPRETATIONS&p_id=22932

Hours and Overtime

So how many hours a week can someone work? According to the FLSA there is no limit for employees 16 years or older.

Another interesting point workers may not be aware of is that, according to federal laws, an employee can be required to perform duties outside the employee’s job description. This is different for employees under the age of 18.

Overtime pay is another highly searched topic. The FLSA requires overtime pay for nonexempt employees at a rate of no less than 1 ½ times the employee’s regular rate of pay after 40 hours in a workweek. Some exceptions occur for police, firefighters and employees of hospitals and nursing homes. However, certain states have enacted overtime laws where the employee is subject to both federal and state laws, but, the employee is entitled to overtime under the standard providing the higher rate of pay.

Nonexempt versus Exempt

A nonexempt employee is one who is entitled to minimum wage and overtime pay under the FLSA. An exempt employee is one who is exempt from overtime pay and some from both overtime pay and minimum wage provisions.  Employers and employees should always closely check the terms and conditions of an exemption in light of the employee's duties. List of commonly used exemptions can be found here:  http://www.dol.gov/elaws/esa/flsa/screen75.asp

Minimum Wage

An employee is generally subject to both the state and federal minimum wage laws, with the higher of the two wages prevailing. Federal minimum wage as of 2009 was $7.25. To find out if your state has a separate minimum wage, click here:  http://www.dol.gov/whd/minwage/america.htm

There are many more Labor Law topics of interest to employees and employers, including vacation/sick time, leave and benefits. You can visit the Department of Labor website for a comprehensive list of questions and answers or at least, a point in the right direction. http://webapps.dol.gov/dolfaq/dolfaq.asp