Can I Be Forced to Work Without Pay?

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Employers in the United States must pay employees for all hours worked and cannot force workers to labor without receiving minimum compensation set by federal or state law. An employer cannot sanction, discriminate against or fire an employee for not working without pay. The Fair Labor Standards Act prevents the exploitation of most employees, and some states set their own pay standards in excess of federal law.

Considerations

Employers cannot work employees off the clock. Employees must receive at least the minimum wage rate of $7.25 for every hour worked as of July 24, 2009, under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Tipped employees can receive $2.13 an hour and youths under 20 years of age can receive a probationary wage of $4.25 an hour for their first 90 days of employment, according to the Department of Labor (DOL). State wage laws sometimes exceed federal law.

Exceptions

Because salaried employees agree to work according to contract and do not receive an hourly rate, an employer can require a salaried employee to work additional hours without additional pay. An employer does not have to pay an intern if the intern receives educational training and will not necessarily receive a job after his internship. In general, employers can require an intern to work any hours and can terminate her if she refuses to work. State and federal labor law does not apply to immediate relatives hired by a family-owned business.

Time Frame

Employers must keep daily records of the hours that an employee works every day to comply with the FLSA for at least three years, and they cannot keep worked hours off the books. In addition, businesses must pay workers for every hour worked by the next payday. If an employer does not compensate a worker for unpaid work or tries to convince the employee to work without pay, the employee has two years to file a lawsuit or a complaint with the DOL in most circumstances and three years to file if the employer willfully violated federal labor law, according to the DOL.

Remedies

If an employer does not pay an employee for his labor, the employee can submit a complaint to the Wage and Hour Division Office of the U.S. Department of Labor by visiting a local office or by calling 1-866-487-9243. Employees can also file a private lawsuit through which they can receive compensation for unpaid work, attorney’s fees and court costs. Employers cannot discriminate against or fire an employee for reporting labor violations under the FLSA.

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