WAGE & HOUR LAW
Wage and hour law is a combination of state and federal laws that together strictly regulate how employers must pay employees. These laws are designed to prevent wage and tip theft. For example, they govern whether a worker: 1) may be classified as an employee or an independent contractor, 2) is entitled to minimum wage, overtime pay, and commissions, and 3) may be forced to share tips.
Minnesota Wage, Tip, and Hour Attorney
As an employment lawyer who practices in state and federal court, I am familiar with wage and hour law and seek to help my clients understand, enforce, and comply with those laws. I advise and advocate for those in Minnesota and beyond who seek fairness and justice, including wage theft victims and employers and entrepreneurs striving to comply with wage and hour law.
What are the laws in Minnesota regarding employment wages and hours?
Wage and hour laws in Minnesota are governed by both federal and state legislation. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) sets federal standards, while the Minnesota Fair Labor Standards Act (MFLSA) and the Minnesota Payment of Wages Act (MPWA), among others, provide state-specific regulations. Collectively, these laws address:
1. Payment of Wages, Tips, and Commissions: The law requires that employers must pay employees who have performed labor for the employer. In addition to being legally obligated to pay employees their regular wages and salaries, employers are also required to pay employees their earned tips and commissions. If an employer fails to do so, it is considered wage theft and the employee can take advantage of both legislation and caselaw to hold the employer responsible.
2. Tip Distribution: Tips are considered wages. Minnesota has some of the most stringent tip laws in the country, and employers must take care not to improperly withhold or distribute tips belonging to their employees. Employers are usually barred from redistributing tips to ownership, management, and other employees who are not involved in direct service. Similarly, employers are often prohibited from mandating that employees share (or "pool") their tips with other employees -- including fellow direct service employees. Given the complexity of this area of law, it is best for Minnesota employers and employees who are affected by tipping to consult an attorney who is experienced in Minnesota wage and hour law. The consequences of violating tip laws can be enormous!
3. Minimum Wage: State and federal law often differ as to the minimum wage that employers must pay employee for each hour worked. Further, these rates are often adjusted annually for inflation, so it's advisable to periodically check the current rates. If state law requires a higher minimum wage, as is the case in Minnesota, employers must pay the higher rate. Certain employees are exempt from the minimum wage requirements, but it is best for employers and employees to consult an attorney before concluding that such an exemption is warranted for any particular employee.
4. Overtime Pay: Under federal law, employees who are not exempt from the overtime requirements of the FLSA are entitled to receive overtime pay from their employer at a rate of 1.5 times the employee's regular rate for all hours worked over 40 in a workweek. Again, certain employees may be exempt from overtime pay requirements, including executive, administrative, and professional employees who meet specific salary and duties tests; however, it is important that both employers and employees consult with an experienced employment law attorney about whether an exemption is allowable for any specific employee.
5. Unauthorized Deductions: As a general rule, employers may only make deductions from an employee's wages if:
Required by law: This includes deductions for taxes, Social Security, Medicare, and court-ordered wage garnishments.
Authorized by the employee: If the deduction is for the employee's benefit, the employee must provide a voluntary, written authorization for the deduction. This could include deductions for things like union dues, health insurance premiums, or retirement plan contributions.
To cover the cost of lost or damaged property or for money owed to the employer: However, the employer can only make these deductions if the employee voluntarily authorizes them in writing after the loss has occurred. Even with the employee's authorization, the deduction cannot reduce the employee's wages below the minimum wage, and the deduction cannot be from overtime wages.
It's important to note that certain deductions are expressly prohibited, even if they are authorized by the employee. For example, Minnesota law prohibits employers from deducting the cost of uniforms or equipment that are required for the job.
6. Meal and Rest Breaks: Minnesota law requires employers to provide employees with a reasonable, unpaid meal break for every shift that is eight continuous hours or longer. The break should be enough time for the employee to eat a meal. Although the law does not specify the exact length of time for a meal break, it is generally understood to be at least 30 minutes. If an employee is completely relieved of their duties during the meal break, then the break can be unpaid. However, if the employee is required to do any work during the meal break, even if it's just being "on-call" or "on-duty," then the break must be paid. In addition to meal breaks, Minnesota law requires employers to provide employees with adequate rest breaks. Specifically, employers must allow employees to take sufficient time to use the restroom every four hours. This break is on the employer's time, which means it must be paid. Beyond this requirement, Minnesota does not require employers to provide general rest breaks (sometimes called "coffee breaks") during the workday. However, under federal law, if an employer chooses to provide short breaks (generally 20 minutes or less), these breaks must be paid. These rules are intended to ensure that employees have time to rest and eat during their shifts. Both employers and employees should be aware of these laws. Employers who fail to provide these breaks may be subject to penalties, and employees who are not receiving these breaks can file a complaint with the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry.
What are the legal consequences of wage theft in Minnesota?
In Minnesota, employees who have been victims of wage theft have several potential remedies available to them. Wage theft occurs when an employer fails to pay an employee the full wages, benefits, or overtime pay they are owed under the law.
Filing a complaint: An employee can file a complaint with the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry. The DLI may investigate the claim and could take enforcement actions against the employer, such as requiring them to pay back the owed wages, imposing penalties, or even pursuing criminal charges in severe cases.
Private lawsuit: An employee can also file a private lawsuit against their employer to recover the unpaid wages, overtime pay, or benefits. If successful, the employee may recover the amount they are owed, along with additional damages, such as liquidated damages (which can be up to twice the amount of unpaid wages), and attorneys' fees and costs.
Injunction: In some cases, a court may issue an injunction requiring the employer to comply with wage and hour laws and prevent future wage theft.
Criminal charges: In Minnesota, wage theft can also be a criminal offense. If the DLI or another government agency determines that the employer's actions were intentional and fraudulent, they may refer the case for criminal prosecution. Penalties for criminal wage theft can include fines and imprisonment.
It's important to note that there are time limits for pursuing wage theft claims, so employees should act promptly if they suspect they have been the victim of wage theft. Consulting with an attorney who specializes in employment law can help the employee understand their rights and navigate the legal process.
How can a lawyer help Minnesota employees and employers with wage and hour concerns?
An attorney familiar with Minnesota wage and hour laws can be a valuable resource for both employees and employers. For employees, a lawyer can help them understand their rights, review their employment situation to ensure they are being paid appropriately, and represent them in disputes or lawsuits against their employer.
For employers, an attorney can provide advice on how to comply with wage and hour laws, conduct audits to ensure compliance, draft policies that adhere to the law, and represent them in disputes or lawsuits brought by employees or investigations by government agencies. It's always best to consult with an attorney to fully understand the rights and responsibilities under these laws.