Employment Law: Understanding Minimum Wage and Overtime Pay

| Blog, Employment Issues

Employment law is extremely complex, and not being paid your full wages is frustrating, demoralizing, and stressful. You and your family may feel exposed to financial risk. You may feel powerless and victimized because you believe that your employer is holding all of the cards in this situation. If you do not understand the law, you cannot be sure that you have been paid every dollar you have earned.

Accurate and relevant information is crucial to pursuing a legal case. The information and legal process should be clear and straight-forward. However, trying to read the Washington statutes called the Revised Code of Washington can be daunting and incomprehensible as it may appear to be written in a foreign language. Similarly, the legal system can also be intimidating and difficult to understand. Many people don’t know what to expect out of the legal process.

This feeling of confusion exists even when a person hires an employment lawyer, because people often do not know how to hire the right lawyer for their case. As a result, they end up hiring an inexperienced lawyer who does not know or understand wage law. We want to help you understand the process, and what kind of steps a good employment lawyer will take to help you.

If you need immediate help, please don’t hesitate to contact me. For more information about your employee rights, keep reading.

Does my employer owe me money?

Washington wage laws are expressly written in the Revised Code of Washington (RCW) and the Washington Administrative Code (WAC). The RCWs are the laws passed by the legislature of the State of Washington. The WACs are the regulations passed by particular departments assigned to oversee certain industries. Ultimately, payment of wages is handled by the Department of Labor and Industries of the State of Washington. Employers must obey both the laws and regulations of this Department regarding your wages. Additionally, some employer/employee relationships are governed by federal laws and regulations.

There are several kinds of wage claims. Employees often complain of not being paid the minimum wage or time and a half for their overtime. Some employers make illegal deductions from paychecks or fail to make payments for hours worked or services provided.

Minimum Wage

In general, Washington law requires that employers pay a minimum wage to their employees for all hours worked. To be “employed” is defined broadly. It includes any engagement to work and an employer permitting or allowing you to work. An “employer” can be an individual, partnership, association, corporation or any group of persons acting in the interest of an employer.

An experienced employment attorney will advise you as to whether or not your employment is excluded from the minimum wage requirement. An “employee” is an individual engaged to work for an employer. However, there are numerous exceptions for workers in certain specified jobs. These include seamen, firefighters, ferry workers, some salesmen and professionals or persons working in executive positions. An “independent contractor” is also excluded from the minimum wage requirement. However, an employer cannot simply call you an “independent contractor” just to avoid paying you a minimum wage.

The minimum wage is calculated each September by the Department of Labor and Industries and goes into effect on the following January 1. Your employer is required to have a poster on the premises of your job that states the current federal and state minimum wage. You are entitled to receive the higher of the two possible minimum wages. As of 2013, minimum wage in Washington is $9.19 per hour.

You must be paid the minimum wage for all hours worked. This includes any meetings or training that your employer requires you to attend. It also includes any time spent opening and closing the business, and the ten minute rest break you are entitled to for every four hours of work. It may also include your thirty minute meal period if your employer requires that you remain on-call or on the job site during the meal period. If you receive tips, gratuities, or service fees, your employer cannot use them to meet the minimum wage requirement. Your employer also cannot use your vacation pay, holiday pay, meals or lodging as a credit towards the minimum wage for the pay period. Your employer may count any other additional payments made to you and bonuses to meet the minimum wage requirement

Overtime Wages

“Overtime” is work performed by an employee in excess of the normal 40 hour work week. In general, Washington law requires that an employee be paid one and one half times the normal hourly rate for overtime work. However, many professions and jobs that are excluded from this rule, under both federal law and Washington law. There are dozens of exclusions that must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

A qualified employment attorney can tell you whether or not you are entitled to overtime. One of the biggest overtime mistakes I see made by employers and employees is to assume that just because a person is paid a salary means that he/she is not entitled to overtime. That is not the law. The law requires that an employee who is paid a salary still fall under one of the exceptions to the overtime laws. For example, if you work as a sales associate (i.e. cashier) at Wal-Mart and you are paid a monthly salary without overtime even though you consistently work more than 40 hours per week, you may be entitled to overtime payment. BEING PAID A SALARY IS NOT THE DETERMINING FACTOR.

If you suspect that you are not being paid overtime, gather all of your documents that show the number of hours you work per week. If that requires contacting your human resources or payroll personnel for copies of your time cards or pay stubs, you should do that since you will need this information to prove your case. You should not need to disclose why you are requesting the information. If you cannot access those documents, or do not have such documents, you need to figure out how you will validate your contention that you worked in excess of forty hours per week. Generally, for every hour you worked in excess of forty hours you are entitled to one and one-half times your normal rate of pay.

Do you need help?

Navigating the complex maze of wage and employment law can be tremendously stressful and frustrating. A good employment lawyer will be able to help you and relieve you of some of that stress. Do you need help now? Please don’t hesitate to contact me.

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