The 2020 Mid-Year Economic Update_long

Fair Labor Standards Act Primer

The 60-year-old federal Fair Labor Standards Act is known as the wage-hour law. Under the law, employers must pay employees at least the minimum wage for hours worked; must pay them 1.5 times their regular hourly rate for all time worked over 40 hours, unless they are exempt as defined by the law; and must keep accurate records of their daily and weekly hours worked.


Under the FLSA, meal periods (30 minutes or more) do not have to be treated as compensable work time. Short rest breaks on the other hand do. FLSA does not require breaks or meals, but some states do. Important: The federal law does not preempt oftentimes stricter local and state wage-hour provisions.


“The devil is in the details,” according to Fisher & Phillips, which specializes in labor and employment law. Recurring legal problems usually rise with confusion over the exemption status of certain workers, “off-the-clock” work, deductions or other offsets to legally required pay, failing to figure overtime properly, or failing to figure overtime on bonuses or other incentive amounts, and failing to take into account the differences between federal and state wage-and-hour laws.


Attorney Michael Mitchell of Fisher & Phillips LLC says open communication with employees is the key to avoiding legal problems in connection with FLSA.


“Effective employee communications and a first-class complaint handling system are important,” he says. “Have a hot line or some other regular method of surfacing complaints internally.”


In a court, the employee has the burden to present evidence showing he worked time for which he was not properly compensated.


“But the burden is not all that heavy,” Mitchell says. “The employer’s obligation to keep accurate time records often turns into what amounts to the employer’s burden to disprove the employee’s claims as a practical matter.” The employer also typically bears the burden of proving every element of an FLSA exemption or exception, he says.


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