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Protecting Your Wages: The Fair Labor Standards Act


As the old adage goes, time is money. For the 72 million hourly workers in this country, that saying is quite literally true. For hourly workers, each and every minute they work contributes to their total pay – the money they use to pay their bills and feed their families. When an hourly worker’s time is not properly tracked, that worker is deprived of money he rightfully earned. A specific set of federal laws and regulations – the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) – protects workers and guarantees their right to be paid for all hours worked.

In addition to setting the federal minimum wage in the United States, the FLSA, which is administered by the U.S. Department of Labor, contains numerous regulations governing how employers pay their hourly workers. Perhaps most importantly, the FLSA requires employers to pay an overtime rate of one and one-half an employee’s hourly wage for hours worked in excess of 40 hours per week. Many times, an employer’s failure to properly credit an employee for all time worked results in the employee wrongly being deprived of overtime pay that is due. Some common FLSA violations include:

  • Requiring Or Permitting Work During Lunch Breaks

Under most circumstances, employers are not required to pay for an employee’s lunch break. Employers may have an obligation to pay employees for meal breaks if the employee is not “completely relieved from duty” during the break. If an employer requires or accepts employees working during their lunch break, there may be an obligation to pay the employees for that time and possibly overtime. Most employers attempt to insulate themselves from liability for this violation by instructing their employees not to work during lunch and/or report working lunches as time worked.

  • Rounding Hours Worked

Some employers round their employees’ work time to the nearest quarter or tenth of an hour. The FLSA permits this practice so long as the employer does not always round down. For example, where an employee clocks in 7 or more minutes late, the employer may dock the employee for the full 15-minute increment if the employee is similarly given credit for the full 15-minute increment (rounded up) when working between 8 and 14 minutes beyond the end of his shift. If an employer only rounds down and does not credit the employee for time worked beyond their shift, then its employees may be entitled to overtime compensation.

  • Working Before Or Beyond A Scheduled Shift

The FLSA requires employers to pay their employees for any work the employer “suffers or permits.” Sometimes employees arrive early or stay beyond the end of their shift and work “off the clock” in order to catch up on certain tasks. Even if an employer does not specifically authorize or require this extra work time, there may be a violation when the employer knows about the additional time worked.

Under the FLSA, where an employer fails to properly pay its employees overtime, employees may bring suit to recover the amount of their unpaid overtime compensation. In most cases, an employee may also recover an amount equal to the unpaid overtime compensation – known as liquidated damages. Do you think that your employer has failed to pay you overtime? As with any legal issue, the specific facts of the situation determine whether you have a viable claim. If you think your employer may have violated the FLSA, you should contact a firm of experienced trial attorneys who will provide you with a free consultation. A lawyer can help you determine whether your employer violated the FLSA and whether the violation warrants legal action.


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    I have some friends who are nurses, and they are always working excessive hours. I’m pretty sure they work “off the clock” to play catch-up, too. Thanks for the information! I’ll pass it along.

  2. Jeremy Farrell says:
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    Great post, Melissa. I think the information regarding lunchtime breaks and working before and/or after a scheduled shift is especially relevant to the younger workforce.

    Recent graduates are often paid on an hourly basis. The pressure to succeed in a new career often causes those employees to come in early, work through lunch, and leave late in order to get ahead. I think many of them don’t know and would be interested to learn they may have a legal right to compensation for their extra time and hard work.

    Also, since a typical workweek is now 37.5 hours, I’m sure some of those extra hours are also compensable under higher overtime pay rate.