The U.S. Department of Labor’s regulations on minimum wages are intentionally broad with no regard paid to local costs of living and the type of work that a worker performs. Because of this, employers must pay construction workers the same minimum wage as workers in any other industry as per state or federal regulation. Although simplistic, the broad definition of minimum wage laws allows departments of labor to police and enforce the standard with the least amount of confusion between it and employers.
The federal Fair Labor Standards Act requires employers to pay construction workers – and all other employees – at least $7.25 per hour, as of May 2011. Many states’ minimum wage laws require employers to pay all workers a higher minimum wage, with Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Vermont and Washington all enforcing state minimum wages higher than the federal mandate. As of 2011, no state’s minimum wage is higher than $8.67, the minimum for workers in Washington.
The Fair Labor Standards Act requires all employers to pay workers an overtime wage once they work more than 40 hours in a workweek. Workweeks must be clearly defined with a recurring start date, so overtime hours can’t be passed off into another pay period to avoid overtime charges. Employers must pay overtime wages of 1.5 times the worker’s normal rate of pay for overtime hours. For example, a construction worker who earns $8 per hour and works 50 hours a week receives $8 hourly for the first 40 hours on his paycheck and $12 per hour for the remaining 10.
The U.S. Department of Labor doesn’t allow employers to classify most construction workers as exempt employees to avoid overtime pay. Only supervisory positions, such as foreman or site manager, may be declared exempt, and only if the worker receives at least $455 each week as of 2011. Employers must pay exempt employees the same amount each work week, regardless of the number of hours they perform in a week. An exempt employee draws his weekly salary if he works 80 hours or is rained out for most of the week and only works 12 hours.
Skilled construction workers who are members of a labor union usually receive higher wages than minimum wage. Union member wages are a matter of local policy and contracts with employers, and aren’t enforced under federal or state minimum-wage laws. Union workers who aren’t receiving proper union pay should contact their local representative to resolve the dispute.