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Although they affect almost all of us, surprisingly few people fully understand federal and state wage and hour laws. These laws dictate how much employers are required to pay employees and mandate that employers must appropriately compensate employees for their overtime work.
The current minimum wage in Washington D.C. is $6.60/hour. As of January 1, 2006, the minimum wage will rise to $7.00/hour. This is the lowest rate of pay that any employer in D.C. can legally pay an employee for hourly work. Some states such as Maryland do not set their own minimum wage. Instead, they adopt the federal minimum set by the Fair Labor Standards Act. This amount currently stands at $5.15/hour.
In most states, certain employees are exempt from minimum wages laws. In D.C., for example, employers can pay handicapped workers less than the minimum wage if the employer obtains a certificate from the Department of Labor. Other exceptions include children under 18 years of age, the elderly and students who attend the institution that employs them. In certain circumstances, minimum wage laws are not be applicable to these groups.
Most states have laws that require employers to pay their employees at least one and one-half times the regular rate of pay for all hours worked over 40 in a given week. Even in states that have no such laws, employers are still bound by the overtime provisions of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act.
Much like the minimum wage laws, overtime laws include a number of exemptions. In D.C., for example, the largest restriction is on employees who serve in executive, administrative, professional or outside sales positions. These types of employees are not legally entitled to overtime pay. Other exceptions include people employed in private households who live on the premises, seaman, railroad workers, newspaper delivery people, parking lot attendants and car washers.
Despite the exceptions to overtime and minimum wage laws, employers are wise to err on the side of compliance. Not only may this improve employee morale, but also, it will protect them from expensive and embarrassing wage and hour lawsuits.
For employees, understanding your rights under the applicable wage and hour laws is critical. Lawmakers designed these laws to protect employees from exploitation. If you work for an employer who is not meeting standards, you may be entitled to compensation. However, the time you have to recover your back wages is limited. If you believe you have been a victim of a wage and hour violation contact an attorney as soon as possible to discuss your case.