The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is a federal law that establishes minimum wage and overtime pay, employer recordkeeping, and child labor standards. Originally enacted by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1938, it covers private employers as well as federal, state, and local governments. Some states also have laws that cover minimum wage, overtime, employer recordkeeping, and child labor, but in general FLSA trumps state laws, except when the statute specifies otherwise.
The FLSA governs most jobs, but certain jobs may be excluded from coverage either because they are specifically excluded by statute or because another specific federal labor law covers them. For example, many railroad workers’ jobs are covered by the Railway Labor Act, and therefore FLSA does not apply. Employees whose jobs are covered by FLSA are either “nonexempt” or “exempt.” Exempt workers are people not entitled to overtime pay because they are paid at least $23,600 annually, they are paid on a salary basis, and they perform exempt job duties outlined in FLSA regulations.
Currently, under FLSA, employers must pay covered nonexempt workers a minimum wage of not less than $7.25 per hour. If an employee is subject to both state and FLSA minimum wage laws, the employee is entitled to the higher minimum wage.
Employers must pay overtime at a rate of at least 1 1/2 times the regular rate of pay after an employee works 40 hours in a single workweek. The workweek is defined as any fixed, regularly recurring span of 168 hours or seven consecutive 24-hour periods. However, overtime pay is not required for weekends, holidays, or rest days, unless the work an employee performs on such days meets the criteria for overtime. An employer and employee may agree that the employee receives extra pay for working weekends, nights, or holidays, but FLSA does not require it.
Many people assume FLSA covers meal breaks and rest breaks, but it does not. Instead, state laws cover meal and rest breaks. Less than half of the states have laws requiring a meal break, and an even smaller number require employers to provide a rest break. However, many states have stricter laws related to providing minors with meal or rest breaks.
There is no FLSA limit to how many hours may be worked in total, either in a single day or in a workweek, as long as the employee is at least 16. The hours that are worked include all the time during which an employee must be on the premises of the employer, or on duty or at some other workplace prescribed by the employer or its agents.
The FLSA rules are set out on official posters that must be displayed in the workplace so that employees know their rights. Moreover, employers must maintain time and pay records for all employees. It is acceptable for an employer to ask an independent contractor, as opposed to an employee, to keep track of his or her own time.
The FLSA provides the most extensive child labor provisions of any federal or state law. It sets 14 years of age as the minimum age of employment, but it restricts both hours and the type of occupations that minors may work. The goal of these provisions is to protect minors’ rights to receive education and to pursue educational opportunities. Minors may not work in conditions that are detrimental to their health or safety. For example, people under age 18 may not work in any hazardous industry, including mining, excavating, operating power-driven equipment, or manufacturing explosives.