Wage and Hour Law

Under federal law, almost all employees are entitled to a minimum wage. Currently, the federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. Some states have set a higher minimum wage than the federal minimum. If you live in one of these states, you are entitled to the higher wage.

Some states, on the other hand, have no minimum wage law, or a minimum wage law that is lower than the federal standard (this is usually simply because the state has not bothered to raise its minimum wage in many years, rather than some effort to undermine federal law). In such cases, employers will be bound to pay employees the federal minimum wage.

In many states, and under the federal law, the minimum wage is significantly lower for employees who receive a significant portion of their income from tips and gratuities. This would include waiters, bartenders, etc.

Also, if your job provides room, board, and food, the cost of that can be deducted from your pay. However, there is a maximum amount of money that employers are allowed to deduct for such costs, and it is fairly small.

Work Week Requirements

The U.S. also has a strict wage and hour requirements for most employees. The law that applies to the vast majority of employees in the U.S. is pretty simple: the standard work week is 40 hours (8 hours per day, 5 days per week).

Employees can work more hours than this, and employers can ask them to do so. However, any time exceeding the standard work week is considered "overtime." For every hour of overtime an employee works, they have to be paid 1.5 times their standard hourly rate ("time and a half"). So, suppose an employee's standard wage is $20 per hour, and her standard work week is 40 hours. Her employer needs her to work for an additional 5 hours that week. For those 5 hours, she would have to be paid $30 per hour ($20 x 1.5 = $30).

Some employees are exempt from this requirement. In general, these are "professional" or "white-collar" workers, such as executives, accountants, doctors, lawyers, etc. These types of workers are often paid on a salary, rather than hourly, basis. They do not need to be paid extra for any time they work over 40 hours per week. However, their salary, divided by the actual number of hours they have to work, must be equivalent to at least the minimum wage.