Monday, May 14, 2012

Time to raise the minimum wage? Employers' failure to pay proper wages compounds economic difficulties

A recent article in The Atlantic, citing a report by the National Employment Law Project, addresses the prospect of an increase in the national minimum wage, currently set at $7.25 per hour. According to the NELP report, the present minimum wage, unchanged since 2009, is well below the historical standard once inflation and cost of living adjustments are taken into account. For example, the report claims that using the 1968 rate as the baseline, today's minimum wage should be $10.55 once adjusted for inflation.

Regardless of whether the minimum wage is raised in the near term, the reality is that many employers are failing to pay workers the full amount due under federal wage-and-hour laws even under the current rate. The Fair Labor Standards Act, or FLSA, requires employers to pay workers the minimum wage for all of the time they spend working, plus time-and-a-half for all overtime work, meaning all time in excess of 40 hours per week. Although a number of exceptions or exemptions apply to these rules, typically (though not always) for higher-paid workers who receive a salary or for commissioned sales employees, it is not unusual for employers to incorrectly claim such as exemption and fail to pay proper wages. The fact that a worker receives a salary, rather than payment by the hour, does not exempt the employer from these rules, although many employers attempt to claim otherwise.

Additionally, employers sometimes fail to consider all work as "on the clock." For example, if an employee is required to eat lunch at his or her desk, or is required to wear special protective clothing that takes time at the workplace to put on, those activities may be compensable work time even though the employer claims they are not. In such cases, the employer may be liable for back pay to any employee not receiving compensation for those activities.

A minimum wage increase would be of immediate benefit to many workers currently earning the minimum wage, and would potentially benefit those earning higher wages if employers raise wages across the board. But as many as 70% of employers, according to the Labor Department, are violating FLSA rules on wages in some way, meaning that American workers are being deprived of substantial wages that are rightfully theirs. Fortunately, federal law provides substantial remedies in favor of those workers. If you or someone you know has not been paid proper wages, or has been asked to work "off the clock," you may have a valuable legal right to pursue those claims.

Turkheimer & Hadden, LLC
Trial and Appellate Lawyers
(404) 890-7200

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