Wage And Hour Laws: Florida Edition
In the United States, every employee has rights and every employer must abide by labor laws set on a federal level in tandem with local state laws.
This article talks about wage and hour laws as they pertain to the state of Florida.
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What Are Labor Laws?
Labor laws are set and enacted to protect employees: their rights, health, and financial remuneration. These laws govern hiring practices, wage minimums, overtime compensation, breaks allowed for meals, vacation/sick/holiday/jury duty/voting leave, severance pay, unemployment, and child labor protections.
Which Workers Are Protected By Wage And Hour Laws?
"Wage and hour laws" determine and enforce the minimum standards for minimum wage as well as overtime hours for workers -- to prevent exploitation.
There are three types of workers recognized in the state of Florida:
Exempt employees (salaried employees)
Non-exempt employees (employees paid by the hour)
Independent contractors ("non-employee workers")
Of those categories, only non-exempt workers are entitled to minimum wage and overtime pay. Salaried employees are paid on a weekly (as opposed to hourly) basis -- and hence, are considered "exempt" from overtime. Independent contractors are not classified as "employees" at all, with no benefits or protections, unless outlined in their specific contract with the employer.
Federal Vs. State Laws: Which To Follow?
In general, federal law overrides state law. However, when it comes to workers' rights, if federal and state laws come into conflict, the US Department of Labor instructs employers and employees to adhere to the law that offers the highest standard of protection to employees and the strictest standard for employers.
Federal Labor Laws
Country-wide wage and hour laws are regulated by the US Department of Labor through the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). FLSA establishes minimum wage and overtime pay pertaining to private sector, Federal, State, and local government employees.
Federal labor laws also oversee/enforce youth employment standards, prohibiting the employment of minors in jobs/under conditions deemed detrimental to their health and wellbeing.
Finally, in terms of recordkeeping, federal laws require employers to display an official poster outlining the FLSA labor law requirements, as well as to hold onto employee payroll records for at least three years.
Federal Minimum Wage
The federal minimum wage has not "budged" since it was last set at $7.25 per hour in 2009. For this reason, many states (including Florida) have increased their required minimum wage for hourly workers after January 1, 2022.
Federal Hour Laws
The FLSA requires that workers may not be employed for more than 40 hours worked in a week without receiving at least 1.5 times their regular rates of pay for "overtime hours". The term "hours worked" applies to all the time during which an employee is required to be on the employer's premises, on duty, or at a specified workplace.
Florida Labor Laws
In 2003, the state enacted legislature prohibiting Florida cities or counties from passing their own labor laws: hence, Florida minimum wage standards apply the same across the state.
Florida's Minimum Wage Laws
As of September 2021, the minimum wage in Florida was set at $10 per hour, with the stipulation that it increases incrementally by $1 per year until it reaches $15 per hour by September 30, 2026.
As such, the Florida state minimum wage is higher than the federal standard -- therefore, the employer must offer employee compensation in adherence to this higher hourly wage.
There is only one circumstance under which a Florida employer can legally bypass paying the above-indicated minimum wage: when part of the employee's income is based on tips (such a waitstaff positions in bars and restaurants). In this case, the minimum wage requirement in Florida is currently set at $6.98 per hour -- with the condition that the employee must earn at least $3.02 an hour in tips.
Florida Hour Laws
Florida does not have its own overtime laws: therefore, the state's overtime practices default to the federal laws on overtime compensation.
Who Enforces The Labor Laws For Floridians?
The US Department of Labor is responsible for enforcing over 180 federal statutes regulating workplace activities. Many states have their own departments of labor that are, likewise, responsible for enforcing both federal and state laws within their jurisdiction.
While the state of Florida has "workforce innovation" and "unemployment compensation agencies", it does not have its own state agency specifically handling unpaid minimum wages or overtime wages.
Filing A Minimum Wage Claim In Florida
When a Florida employer fails to compensate an employee the correct wages earned, the employee cannot file a state complaint, as no such agency exists -- however, they have two other options: file a federal complaint -- or take their employer to Florida court.
FILE A FEDERAL-LEVEL "MINIMUM WAGE" CLAIM WITH THE US DEPARTMENT OF LABOR WAGE AND HOUR DIVISION UNDER FLSA
The employee can get in touch with the US Department of Labor (which has seven "Wage and Hour Division" (WHD) offices across the state of Florida) to file a federal complaint under FLSA (which covers employees at businesses involved in interstate commerce, or ones with $500,000+ volume of business annually, including hospitals and residential care facilities, schools, and all levels of government positions).
The complainant needs to provide their own name/address/phone, the name/address/phone of their workplace and supervisors, details about the type of work & rate of pay, and any supporting documentation, such as pay stubs, personnel records, company policies, etc.
The WHD will then conduct an investigation and try to resolve the dispute administratively: if this fails, the Division will file a suit in federal court on the employee's behalf.
The employee has two years from the date the alleged violation of their wage and hour rights to make an official complaint: it is advised to do this as soon as possible and not wait until the statute of limitations is nearly up.
FILE A STATE LAWSUIT
If a Florida employee is not covered by FLSA but feels that their minimum wage rights have been violated, they can sue their employer in court for unpaid wages.
Before filing such a suit, the employee must inform their employer in writing of their intention, detailing the claim. The notice must specify the wage to which the employee is entitled, the hours worked, as well as the total amount of unpaid wages owed.
The the employer then has 15 days to respond to the notice / resolve the claim to the employee's satisfaction. If satisfaction is not obtained, the employee then has the right take their employer to Florida Civil Court.
What Happens To Florida Employers That Fail To Uphold Employment Law?
On the level of federal law, employers who are found to be willfully or repeatedly in violation of the minimum wage/overtime laws are subject to civil money penalty of up to $1,000 per violation.
In Florida court, under the Florida Statute §448.01, an employee that successfully proves their case may be entitled to:
unpaid back wages
liquidated damages (not to exceed the amount of unpaid back wages)
reasonable lawyer's fees/legal costs
equitable relief the judge considers appropriate (e.g. reinstating the job, if the employee was fired)
Punitive damages are not available for this form of civil action.
Complying With Labor Laws Is The Right Thing To Do
It takes good leadership and ethical ownership to run a company that is legally compliant. Violations of labor laws are particularly abhorrent in nature because they indicate the employer's willingness to exploit fellow human beings.
As such, not only is non-compliance with wage and hour laws quite costly financially -- it can undermine a company's reputation beyond all repair.
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Written by: Maria Malyk