Several farms in southern Minnesota were recently ordered to pay back wages and unpaid overtime wages. One of the farms argued that their workers met an exception to the Minnesota Fair Labor Standards Act (MFLSA) overtime requirement.
Under the MFLSA, farm workers must be paid time-and-a-half when they work more than 48 hours a week unless paid a salary above a certain floor (48 hours of minimum wage plus 17 hours of overtime). The farms argued that while there workers were hourly they received more than the salary threshold and fit within the exception.
In 2012, the state appellate court dismissed the argument without specifically deciding whether the exception only applied to salaried employees. Even though the federal labor laws do not require overtime for farm workers, the court ruled farms must follow Minnesota requirements that do require overtime pay.
This case demonstrates some of the complexities with labor laws in general. The Federal Labor Standards Act sets the floor, but states can enact laws that provide workers greater wage-and-hour protections.
Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)
Under the FLSA, hourly workers have the right to receive time-and-a-half overtime pay when they work more than forty hours in a workweek. Salaried employees however are exempt. This is where the terms ‘non-exempt’ and ‘exempt’ come from and why you often hear these terms used by employers rather than hourly and salaried.
Generally, the law defines whether your position is exempt based on your job duties. Just because a position requires an advanced or professional degree does not mean that the position is always classified exempt. Misclassification of a worker can result in unpaid overtime wages.
A study released last year by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, found that between March 2011 and 2012, employees filed more than 7,000 wage-and-hour disputes. In the last decade, the number of these complaints has skyrocketed. In contrast back in 2000, workers filed fewer than 2,000 wage-and-hour cases. This begs the question whether employers have misclassified employees to avoid paying overtime or simply erred.
Many employment law experts agree that most companies do not try to cheat workers out of overtime wage. In a small business, for example, a manager may not know the laws.
If denied wages, contact an attorney
If you have concerns that your employer is miscalculating your wages or has misclassified your position, consult a Minnesota employment law attorney to discuss your concerns. An experienced lawyer can explain available remedies and help you calculate and obtain the wages you rightfully earned.