An Employee's Guide to Federal and State Minimum Wage Laws

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on August 23, 2019

Labor Day is right around the corner,  a welcome day off from work (for many of us) and a time to reflect on the rights of workers won by the labor movement, like the 40-hour work week and minimum wage. Minimum wage laws, in particular, have been getting a lot of attention recently as states and cities continue to raise the floor of what employers must pay. With federal, state, and local laws overlapping, it may be difficult to determine what the minimum wage is where you work.

So, here's a primer on current minimum wage laws, and how they might apply to your job.

The Federal Wage Floor

The Fair Labor Standards Act sets the minimum wage from coast to coast lays out the rules for overtime pay. That wage is $7.25 per hour for covered nonexempt employees, and applies to any employer that has at least two employees and either "an annual dollar volume of sales or business done of at least $500,000," or "hospitals, businesses providing medical or nursing care for residents, schools and preschools, and government agencies." There are a few exceptions and exemptions, like students in retail or service establishments, agriculture, or institutions of higher education, and certain service industry workers.

The FLSA also mandates "time and a half" overtime for work over forty hours per week. However some workers (like executive, administrative, and professional employees; farm workers and seasonal employees; and casual babysitters and some elder care workers) are exempt from minimum wage and overtime pay statutes .

State and Local Labor Laws

As the Labor Department's Wage and Hour Division points out, "Federal minimum wage law supersedes state minimum wage laws where the federal minimum wage is greater than the state minimum wage. In those states where the state minimum wage is greater than the federal minimum wage, the state minimum wage prevails." Therefore, states can set their own minimum wage laws, as long as they are higher than the federal minimum.

A total of 29 states -- plus D.C., Guam, and the Virgin Islands -- have minimum wage rates higher than the federal minimum wage, and many of them have scheduled annual adjustments to raise wages. Five states, however, don't have a state-mandated minimum wage, so they must adhere to the federal statute. State minimum wages range from New Mexico's $7.50/hour to Washington's $12/hour and the District of Columbia's $14/hour.

Several cities and counties have enacted minimum wage ordinances higher than that set by their respective states , from Berkeley ($15.59), Los Angeles ($14.25), and Sunnyvale ($15.65), California to Seattle ($16.00), Washington, and Chicago ($13.00) and Cook County ($12.00), Illinois. In response, 25 states have passed minimum wage preemption laws, prohibiting local governments from setting their own wage laws higher than the state minimum.

Employers subject to minimum wage laws are required to display a poster detailing their wage and hour requirements where employees can readily see it. To find out whether and which federal, state, or local minimum wage laws apply to your job, or if you think your employer is violating wage laws, contact a local wage and hour attorney for help.

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