Everyone who is employed in a job has certain rights and privileges that are protected by either the federal or state government or both. One of these protections is the law that ensures employers pay a minimum wage to all employees, with only a few exceptions. The minimum wage is supposed to allow low paid employees to have enough income to survive and make ends meet, although in many cases the amount may actually not be enough for them to do so. Without a set minimum wage, it would be a lot easier for employers to take advantage of their employees, especially those who did not belong to a union, and pay them less than they could survive on.
Minimum Wage Levels
Both the federal and state governments set a minimum wage for employees. Generally, where state governments have their own minimum wage levels, they tend to be the same or higher than the federal minimum. State governments may have their own individual employment laws as well. Each state sets its own individual minimum wages, but some states are a lot higher than others.
The Federal Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is the federal legislation that spells out federal employment laws, including the federal minimum wage, which is currently $7.25 an hour.
Individual states vary quite widely, with the 2 lowest (Georgia and Wyoming) set at $5.15, which is lower than the federal minimum. The highest state minimum wages are California at $13 an hour and Washington D.C. at $14 an hour. The way federal and state minimum wages work is that the employer in that state is bound to pay the higher of the two minimum wages. So, an employer in Wyoming must pay $7.25 an hour, because that is higher than the state minimum, while in California, employers must pay the state minimum of $13 an hour.
Having a minimum wage doesn’t stop an employer paying more to their employees. It just stops them paying less.
There are some exceptions to the minimum wage laws. They only apply to regular paid employees and not to independent contractors who are technically self-employed and set their rates by negotiation. The laws also do not strictly apply to those workers who may earn tips, e.g. waiters and waitresses. The minimum wage must still be paid or topped up if an employee’s tips do not add up to what they could have earned if they had been solely on wages. The minimum amount of wage paid to a tipped worker is $2.13 an hour, only as long as the employee earns more than the minimum, whatever that is. Tipped employees must earn at least $5.12 an hour in tips on average.
To give an example, Cathy works as a waitress in a bar in Miami. She usually gets lots of tips, but sometimes the bar is empty a lot. On a busy day, she earns $150 in tips after working 6 hours. Because that works out at $25 an hour on average, her employer is not bound to pay her any more than $2.13 an hour for the 6 hours she has worked. Another day, it’s quiet and she only earns $30 in tips in that 6 hours. Because the state minimum hourly wage in Florida is $8.56 an hour, her employer must pay her $3.56 an hour on top of her tips to bring her to $51.36 for the 6 hour shift.
Minimum Wage Violations
As an employee, if your employer does not pay you the federal or state minimum hourly wage, whichever is the higher, you can take legal action against them to make them pay what they owe. It is a violation of federal or state law to not pay the minimum wage to an employee. Other violations include:
- Not paying the minimum wage to an employee who normally earns tips, but their tips collected do not match what they should have earned if paid the minimum wage.
- Taking deductions which mean that the net pay is lower than the minimum wage. Employers are entitled to take certain deductions from an employee’s pay check, but not enough so that their wage drops below the minimum.
- My Company does not pay Minimum Wage
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- Federal Minimum Wage vs. State Minimum Wage
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