By law, most employees must be paid at least the federal or state minimum wage--whichever is higher--for all work they perform. Additionally, most employees must be paid one-and-a-half times their regular rate of pay for all overtime hours they work (all hours in excess of forty in any given workweek). But employers often violate minimum wage and overtime laws. These are some of the most common types of violations:
1. Misclassifying employees as exempt from minimum wage and overtime laws
To avoid costly legal obligations, employers often classify their workers as "exempt" from minimum wage and overtime laws. For instance, they may treat a worker as an independent contractor, or as an exempt administrative, executive, or professional employee. However, whether an employee is actually exempt under the law is based upon actual job duties, and employers often run afoul of the law when attaching an exempt label to an employee or contractor.
2. Averaging long and short workweeks to avoid paying overtime
As mentioned, employees must be paid overtime for all hours they work over forty during any workweek. Generally, employers cannot avoid paying overtime in a particular workweek by averaging the hours worked over several workweeks. For example, an employee who works fifty hours one week and thirty hours the next must be paid for the ten hours of overtime he or she worked in the first week; employers cannot refuse to pay overtime since, on average, the employee worked only forty hours per week over the two-week period. And whether the employee is paid weekly, biweekly, or at some other interval is irrelevant.
3. Miscalculating an employee's regular rate of pay
Employees who work overtime must be paid a rate which is one-and-a-half times their regular rate of pay. However, an employee's regular rate of pay is not always the same as their normal hourly wage rate. For instance, when an employee works at multiple hourly wage rates in a single week, the weighted average of the multiple rates is the employee's regular rate for that week. Other complications arise when an employee receives compensation in addition to their hourly wage rate. For example, when an employee receives a bonus, this can raise the regular rate of pay used to compute overtime pay, even though it leaves the employee's normal hourly wage rate unchanged.
4. Refusing to compensate an employee for all the time they spend working
Employers sometimes fail to recognize the time which employees spend performing job-related activities as time spent working. For example, employers may not treat as work time the time their employees spend on-call, travelling for work, resting during short work breaks, working during meal breaks, putting on and taking off work-required clothing, or performing pre- and post-shift activities. But the law often does recognize this time as time worked. Where the law recognizes time spent performing these types of activities as time worked, employers must count this time as time worked, and they must pay their employees for this time.
5. Requiring or allowing work "off the clock"
Sometimes employers will require their employees to perform "off the clock" work. This means that, even though the activities performed during this time would normally be considered work and be compensated, an employer refuses to pay for this work or even count it as time worked. Employers may justify this by telling an employee that he or she was unproductive during their normal work time and must now make up for time wasted. However, no matter the justification given, requiring "off the clock" work violates an employee's legal rights. All working hours must be paid. This even applies to cases where employees perform work which their employers did not authorize. An employee can be disciplined for performing unauthorized work--but he or she must also be paid for this work.
If you believe that your employer has committed any of these violations, or if you would like to better understand your legal rights at work, you should consult a St. Louis overtime lawyer.