Need-to-Know Information for Hourly Employees
In addition to state-specific employment laws, our nation upholds federal laws designed to protect employee rights across America. Despite this, many companies attempt to find loopholes in regulations or disregard the law entirely. This is why it’s crucial for workers to know their rights, recognize when they may have been shorted on a paycheck, and know the difference between legal and illegal working conditions.
One of the biggest concerns that employees share is the concept of pay. How can you know you're being compensated fairly and fully without the wool being pulled over your eyes? Fortunately, there are steps you can take to educate yourself, ensure that you’re receiving the pay you rightfully deserve, and make sure that you and your fellow employees function in a safe, lawful work environment.
4 Things Your Boss Doesn’t Want You to Know
Even if there are some things your boss prefers you not to know, understanding your workplace rights can mean the difference between being unlawfully terminated and receiving the treatment and compensation you deserve. Keep reading to learn 4 things your boss doesn’t want you to know.
#1. Your boss is required to pay you for breaks that are 20 minutes or less.
While the matter of paid vs. unpaid breaks is unique to each state, federal law requires employers to pay their employees during short rest periods (20 minutes or less). Employers are also required to pay employees who work during meal breaks (for example, a secretary who is required to continue answering the phone during lunch, or a construction worker who grabs a bite while traveling between job sites).
Keep in mind that employers are not required to pay an employee for meal breaks during which they are relieved of all duties. However, if your boss tries to pull a fast one on you by requesting that you clock out while continuing to fulfill your work duties in any capacity, this is illegal. You must be paid while performing work responsibilities, period.
It’s crucial to understand that while employers are required to provide pay during short (5-20 minute) breaks, employers are not required to offer these breaks in the first place, as they are not required to under state or federal law.
Companies are required to provide at least a 30-minute meal break to employees who are scheduled to work 6+ consecutive hours—but again, don’t expect this 30-minute lunch to be a paid one, as this isn’t required.
#2. Companies are required to pay employees for travel and training.
Employers are required to pay employees for training and travel. Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), hours worked are to include all the time during which an employee is required to be on an employer’s premises, on duty, or at a prescribed workplace. This includes certain nonproductive time, such as aforementioned travel and training.
While this likely doesn't include your commute to and from work, any time spent outside the business for principal activity (such as traveling to another site to give a presentation or attending a mandatory training day at facilities on the other side of town) is considered compensable time. Under §785.38, time spent by an employee in travel as part of their principal activity (such as travel from jobsite to jobsite during the workday) must be counted as hours worked.
#3. Your employer can’t require you to work off the clock.
The majority of the time, this particular issue isn’t as obvious as you might think. Bosses are rarely going to request that you come into the office for an unpaid Saturday, but some will try other ways to obtain free labor at your expense.
While it may feel petty to clock back in because your boss requested you make one final phone call, know that you have the right to be paid for that—whether the call lasts one minute or twenty. At the end of the day, your time is valuable. Any time dedicated to fulfilling your job responsibilities can and should be lawfully compensated.
If your employer refuses to allow you to clock back in to fulfill “one tiny last-minute request,” this is illegal. It’s also illegal for your boss to request that you come in “a little early” one morning without paying you for that time. It’s important to not let your manager get away with free labor, no matter how trivial it may seem in the moment.
#4. Your employer is required to pay you for overtime hours.
Federal law requires companies to pay every employee for every minute worked. If that work exceeds 40 hours in a single week, an employee must be compensated with overtime pay (one and half times your hourly wage).
Tennessee is one of the few states that doesn’t enforce a state minimum wage, which means employers are required to adhere to the federal minimum hourly wage of $7.25. Consequently, the minimum overtime wage is $10.88 per hour. If your employer refuses to pay you overtime, this is an illegal act known as wage theft. One of the very few exceptions to overtime regulations is if your duties and salary both fall under the "exempt” category.
It’s important to have a comprehensive knowledge of your position and pay structure to ensure you understand your role and receive the compensation you deserve. Unfortunately, many companies attempt to skirt overtime laws and end up shorting an employee or even an entire group of employees. There are various ways that employers may try to do this, such as:
- Requesting that an employee be “on call” from home
- Misclassifying an employee as an independent contractor
- Misclassifying an hourly worker as a salaried employee
- Giving an employee time off in exchange for working overtime
All of the items listed above violate federal laws, making it essential to know your rights and understand your pay in the workplace.
We Seek Justice One Client at a Time
Our skilled employment law attorneys have proudly served the Memphis and Mid-South area for over 35 years. Every client is a cause we believe in, which is why we invest our full energy and personalized attention on a case-by-case basis. Our mission is to improve the lives of Tennessee workers in our local communities by providing relentless advocacy and compassionate legal counsel for employees of all backgrounds.
Even if your employer doesn’t want you to know this, you have rights as a hardworking Tennessee resident. Don’t let your hard work go to waste simply because your boss refuses to follow federal law. At Donati Law, PLLC, we're willing to step up to the plate for you and demand the fair treatment and wages you rightfully deserve.
Are you being underpaid or mistreated in the workplace? Our experienced employment law attorneys are here for you. Call (901) 209-5500 to request your initial consultation.