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How are federal labor laws different from state laws?

On Behalf of | Dec 28, 2023 | Employment Law |

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is a law that protects workers in the United States against unreasonable and unfair pay practices. Congress adopted the FLSA during the Great Depression to establish minimum wage and overtime pay guidelines. It provides a standard to which states must base their own regulations on.

Massachusetts is among the states in the U.S. that are adopting new wage and hour regulations, significantly affecting the livelihoods of workers. These laws may include increases in the minimum wage, provisions for paid sick leave, more stringent overtime pay requirements, and other regulations designed to protect workers’ rights and improve their working conditions. Below are some examples of the improvements the state implemented.

Minimum wage

The federal minimum wage as of July 24, 2009, is $7.25 per hour, while the minimum wage in Massachusetts is $15.00 per hour. Employers should give the higher of the two, meaning if you are a covered nonexempt employee, you should get at least $15.00 for every hour you work.

On the other hand, the minimum wage for tipped workers who receive more than $20.00 a month in tips in Massachusetts is $6.75. The federal minimum wage rate for these tipped workers is only $2.13. As you see, the minimum salary you should legally receive depends significantly on the industry you are working in and the state where you work.

Overtime

Any employee who works more than 40 hours in a workweek should receive overtime pay, which is at least one and one-half times their regular rate of pay. The FLSA and Massachusetts labor laws do not require overtime pay for work on weekends, holidays and regular days of rest, unless the employee worked overtime on those days. The state may have its own overtime rules, including different standards for what constitutes overtime or which employees are eligible.

However, the primary difference between the state and federal laws is the legal remedies available to employees. If you are eligible for overtime according to Massachusetts regulations, you can receive up to three years’ worth of unpaid overtime wages. If your claim is successful, the damages your employer must pay could be triple what they owe. The FLSA only allows you to recover for two years, and the court may only award you double the unpaid wages in damages.

It is important to note that when federal and state labor laws differ, the law that provides the most protection or benefit to the employee generally takes precedence. By understanding the labor laws, you can have a better chance of preserving and protecting your rights as an employee and fighting for them when necessary.