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What is the Fair Labor Standards Act and Why Does it Matter?

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There are certain employment frameworks we all seem to take for granted. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FSLA) is a perfect example.

Passed in 1938 by Congress and signed by the President, the FLSA introduced a maximum 44-hour, seven-day work week, established for the first time a national minimum wage, guaranteed time-and-a-half for overtime and prohibited most types of child labor.

The law has been widened in subsequent years to include equal pay for men and women and other minor provisions. Here is how the U.S. Department of Labor describes the Act today:

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which prescribes standards for the basic minimum wage and overtime pay, affects most private and public employment. It requires employers to pay covered employees who are not otherwise exempt at least the federal minimum wage and overtime pay of one-and-one-half-times the regular rate of pay. For nonagricultural operations, it restricts the hours that children under age 16 can work and forbids the employment of children under age 18 in certain jobs deemed too dangerous. For agricultural operations, it prohibits the employment of children under age 16 during school hours and in certain jobs deemed too dangerous. The Act is administered by the Employment Standards Administration's Wage and Hour Division within the U.S. Department of Labor.

It is important to distinguish what the law does not require. According to a State of Texas employment guide, the Act does not require:

  • Breaks. Some states require work breaks, but the FLSA does not.
  • Employers to pay for lunch breaks. Under federal law, lunch time is treated as an unpaid break for purposes of eating a meal.
  • Premium, holiday or weekend pay. This is usually offered by employers as an expected perk, but it is not required under federal law.
  • Shift differentials. Companies often offer extra pay for unusual work hours, but, again, federal law does not require it.
  • Raises. Unless it is covered by federal minimum wage guidelines, periodic pay raises are not required under federal law. In practice, raises are offered almost universally and regularly by most employers.

The FLSA is not something most employers and employees think much about these days, even though it forms the framework for how we have structured the workplace in America.