Employee Wage and Hour Rights FAQ

Frequently asked questions about employee compensation and hour laws.

If I get paid tips, can my employer pay me less than minimum wage?

Whether your employer can pay you less than the minimum wage when you earn tips depends on how much money you make in tips and on your state's laws. Generally, an employer must pay all employees covered by state and federal wage and hour laws the federal minimum wage (currently $7.25 an hour) or the state's minimum wage, whichever is higher.

The law gets a bit trickier, however, if you earn tips. Under federal law, an employer is allowed to pay a lower minimum wage -- only $2.13 an hour -- if the employee routinely earns at least $30 per month in tips. But the employer can do this only if the worker's wages plus tips add up to at least the minimum wage for each hour worked. If the worker ends up earning less than the minimum wage even when tips are figured into the bargain, the employer has to make up the difference.

Some states, including California, don't allow employers to pay tipped employees less than the minimum wage. And some states require employers to pay a higher hourly amount to tipped employees, though still less than the state or federal minimum wage. To find out about the rules for workers who earn tips in your state, contact your state's labor department or go to www.dol.gov/whd/state/tipped.htm on the U.S. Department of Labor's website. For more information on tip credits and tip sharing, see Nolo's article Tips, Tip Pooling, and Tip Credits: What Service Employees Need to Know.

Does my employer have to pay me for time spent on required training?

Yes. If you are required to attend a training program for work, you must be paid for that time. For example, if your employer requires all new employees to attend an orientation training or requires current employees to attend sexual harassment training, that time must be paid. If you have to travel to take a training program offsite, your travel time must be paid as well. For more information on your rights to be paid for time you don't actually spend working, see Nolo's article When Work-Related Activities Count as "Hours Worked."

Can my employer require me to clock out when I take a break?

Your right to be paid for break time depends on state law, the length of your break, and what you do with your break time.

A small number of states require employers to provide paid breaks -- typically, ten minutes of paid break time for every four hours worked. If your state doesn't require paid breaks, then your employer doesn't have to pay you for this time unless:

  • your break lasts for 20 minutes or less, or
  • you have to work through your break.

For more information, see Nolo's article Meal and Rest Breaks: Your Rights as an Employee.

Can my employer pay the federal minimum wage if the state's minimum wage is higher?

No. Generally speaking, employees are entitled to the protections of all employment laws that apply to them, whether federal, state, or local. If more than one law covers a situation, the employer must follow the law that provides the most benefit or protection to the employee. In your situation, this means that your employer must pay the highest applicable minimum wage, not the lowest. If your state requires employers to pay a minimum wage that's more than the federal minimum wage (currently $7.25), you are entitled to the higher state amount. For more information, see Nolo's article Your Right to the Minimum Wage.

How much of my paycheck can be garnished to pay child support?

How much of your paycheck may be garnished to pay child support depends on whether you are currently supporting another spouse and/or child, other than the child who is the subject of the child support order. If so, up to 50% of your disposable income (what's left after mandatory deductions) can be garnished and sent to the child's other parent. If you aren't currently supporting anyone, up to 60% of your disposable income can be garnished for child support. These amounts are higher than the limits set for most other types of wage garnishments (for student loans or lawsuit judgments, for example). For more information on wage garnishments, see Nolo's article If Your Wages Are Garnished: Your Rights.

Can my employer make me pay for a work uniform that's covered in the company's name and logos?

It depends on the laws of your state, in part. Under federal law, an employer can require employees to buy a uniform and pay to have it cleaned, as long as the employee is still earning at least the minimum wage once these costs are subtracted. Many states see the issue differently, however. Some don't allow employers to charge employees for uniforms at all. Others allow employers to charge for a uniform only if it can also be used a street wear -- and an outfit that's emblazoned with the company's tags doesn't count. To learn more about which costs an employer can pass on to you, see Nolo's article Paycheck Deductions for Uniforms, Cash Shortages, Tools, and More.

Am I entitled to overtime pay?

To find out whether you are entitled to overtime pay, there are a few things to check. First, check whether your employer is covered by the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and/or your state's wage and hour law. Because the coverage of these laws is so broad, it's very likely that your employer must comply with them.

The next step is to see whether you are considered an "exempt" or a "nonexempt" employee under these laws. If you are exempt, then you are not entitled to overtime pay; if you are nonexempt, then you are entitled to overtime pay.

If you routinely exercise discretion, supervise other employees, and/or make high-level decisions, you may be an exempt employee who is not entitled to overtime pay. To qualify as an "administrative, executive, or professional" employee exempt from overtime under the law, you must be paid on a salary basis (at least $455 per week) and spend most of your time performing duties that require you to use your own discretion and independent judgment. There are specific requirements for each exemption.

In addition, workers who do certain types of jobs are not entitled to overtime. Some of the more common jobs that aren't eligible for overtime are:

  • independent contractors
  • volunteers
  • outside salespeople (that is, employees who customarily and regularly work away from the employer's business, selling or taking orders to sell goods and services)
  • certain computer specialists (such as systems analysts, programmers, and software engineers) who earn at least $27.63 per hour
  • employees of seasonal amusement or recreational businesses, such as ski resorts or county fairs
  • newspaper deliverers
  • employees who work on small farms, and
  • casual domestic baby sitters and people who provide companionship to those who are unable to care for themselves (but this exception does not include those who provide nursing care, or to personal and home care aides who perform a variety of domestic services).

If you do not supervise others or make important decisions for your company, and you don't work in a field that's ineligible for overtime, then you are probably entitled to overtime pay if you work more than 40 hours in a week or, in some states, more than eight hours in a day. For more information, see Nolo's article Overtime Pay: Your Rights as an Employee.

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