In 1938 President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a landmark bill known as the Fair Labor Standards Act. Even though the Act applied only to about one-fifth of the labor force, it did ban oppressive child labor, set the minimum hourly wage at 25 cents, and decreed the maximum workweek was 44 hours. Roosevelt warned the American public, during his “fireside chat” not to let any “calamity-howling executive with an income of $1,000 a day…tell you that a wage of $11 a week is going to have a disastrous effect on the American industry.” While the constitutionality of the Act was unanimously supported initially by the Supreme Court, the FLSA has been altered and amended on at least 43 subsequent occasions. The most notable of these alterations and amendments:
- The Equal Pay Act of 1963, which prohibited the discrimination of employees on the basis of gender for their rate of pay;
- The Fair Labor Standards Amendment of 1966, prohibiting the discrimination of employees on the basis of age for their rate of pay, and
- The Minimum Wage Increase Act of 1996, which raised the federal minimum wage to $5.15 per hour.
FLSA Governs Alabama Workers
Today, most states have implemented their own overtime, wage and hour laws, although those that have not, operate under federal laws. Across the nation, employers are required to pay all hourly and some salaried employees according to overtime hour standards. There are, however, far too many cases in which employers attempt to skirt the laws, requiring employees to work off the clock.
Although most all employers have no trouble understanding the laws, they search for any loophole to avoid paying their employees overtime pay. The FLSA mandates overtime pay for employees who work more than 40 hours in any given week. One of the primary ways employers manage to avoid paying overtime is to promote a worker to a salaried position, giving them a title, then claiming they are exempt from overtime pay. There are certain categories of employees who are exempt from overtime pay, such as outside salespeople, as well as white-collar employees who do professional, managerial, and high-level administrative work. Employers must be able to prove an employee fits into one of those narrow exemptions, or the employee is entitled to overtime.
Alabama Minimum Wage Laws
The state of Alabama does not have a minimum wage law or an overtime law, therefore the state operates under federal laws. Federal minimum wage is currently $7.25. While a municipality, city or state can mandate a higher minimum wage, it cannot pay less than federal minimum wage. Employers are allowed to pay a minimum wage as low as $2.13 per hour to employees who regularly receive more than $30 per month in tips but, employers must make up the difference when direct wages plus tips together are less than the federal minimum hourly wage.
Interns must earn at least minimum wage and overtime pay only if they work at a for-profit private sector company. There are allowances made for those whose service benefits the worker but not the employer, however the worker must meet a specific set of criteria in order to show they are trainees, therefore not subject to FLSA wage requirements. Most employees would be surprised to know that Alabama does not require employers to provide lunch or rest breaks, however workers who continue to work during lunch time or a break, must be paid for that time. In general, workers are entitled to be paid for any short breaks from five to twenty minutes.
Travel Time, Wait Time, Meeting and Training Time
Many employees also attempt to avoid paying workers who are actually on the clock, doing work for the company. In certain instances, an employer must pay workers for travel time, primarily if the employee’s workday has ended and they are called back to work, or if an employee is required to travel an unusually long distance to a worksite after normal work hours. On-duty waiting hours are counted as hours worked. These are times when the employee is not allowed to leave the workplace, and is not otherwise able to use the time for their own purposes, therefore are counted as work hours. Wait time could occur for a messenger waiting for his or her next assignment, a factory worker waiting for a machine to be fixed, a warehouse worker waiting on a truck, or a fireman waiting for an emergency time.
Employees must be paid for required meetings and mandatory training. The only time employees are not required to be paid for training or meetings is when the attendance at those meetings or training sessions is voluntary, outside the employee’s regular working hours, not related to the employee’s job, or when the employee does not perform productive work while attending the meeting, training, lecture or seminar. If a business requires its workers to come in early in order to dress in a required uniform, or to set up tables in the restaurant business, this time must be paid.
Contract Labor Issues
Another way some employers attempt to skirt FLSA laws is by designating their workers as contract laborers. If a business hires a worker on an as-needed basis, to perform specific services, that worker may have an employment status independent of the business, however there are strict IRS rules in place for contract labor. If any of the following apply, the company does not have the right to designate the worker as a contract laborer:
- If the business or company controls how the contractor does his or her job and what work, specifically is done;
- If the company or business controls how payment is made to the worker;
- If the company or business provides the tools for the job;
- If the company or business reimburses the worker’s expenses;
- If the details of the business/worker relationship has continuous worker involvement with key aspects of the business, and
- If the worker receives certain employee benefits, then the worker is not a contract laborer, rather is an employee of the company and falls under FLSA law.
Employers who misclassify employees as independent contractors can find themselves in significant tax trouble.
What if Employers Violate FLSA Laws?
If hourly workers do not receive income they have legitimately earned under the FLSA, they can file a claim with the federal Wage and Hour Division, or they can file a private lawsuit to pursue back pay and recover liquidated damages, attorney fees and court costs. Whether you plan to file a wage claim or hire an attorney to represent you, it is important that you are aware of the statute of limitations which governs the time you have in which to file your claim (two years from the date of the violation in Alabama, unless the employer willfully violated the laws, in which case the statutes are three years).
How Martinson & Beason Can Help You with Overtime, Wage and Hour Claims
The attorneys at Martinson & Beason understand just how important it is that you receive a fair wage, and any overtime pay you are entitled to. If you feel your employer has not paid you the wages you are legally entitled to, under the FLSA, our attorneys can help. We have extensive experience in employee law, and will fight hard for your rightfully earned wages and your rights under FLSA laws. Call Martinson & Beason today for the help and knowledge of Alabama overtime, wage and hour claims you need.