Low-Wage Workers Going Unprotected by Current Minimum Wage Laws

Many low-wage workers hope President Obama’s push to increase the federal minimum wage will offer results. The hope it to increase it to $10.10 per hour (in addition to the recent state-level increases) which would be welcome and exciting news for many in low paying positions. It’s a glimmer of hope that they may not have to struggle so hard to get by on such a small paycheck.

Due to a strange compilation of rules and exemptions on both a federal and state level, there are a number of different “classes” of workers are not protected by minimum wage law. In some cases, workers aren’t just not paid minimum wage, but they are paid well below minimum wage. The complexity of the rules is increased by the fact that state and federal rules and regulations are not always in line with each other. Some of the classes of workers who are often paid below (or well below) minimum wage on the job include:

  • Disabled Workers: federal law allows employers to apply for a special certificate allowing them to decide how much the work of any disabled (physical or mental) worker is worth. The law allowing this was put in place in 1938 and has seen very little change since its inception.
  • Workers at Very Small Businesses: If company gross sales are under $500,000 and no work is done across state lines, federal minimum wage regulations do not apply.
  • Teenage Trainees: There are multiple situations in which federal law allows for exemptions in minimum wage requirements in relation to employment of teenagers/students.
  • Tipped Workers (as mentioned above): According to federal law, minimum wage for tipped workers is $2.13 as long as “tips” bring the overall pay for the worker up to the $7.25 minimum, but this is obviously difficult to regulate and enforce.

These examples make it clear there’s a problem and this is only a small representation of the full list of classes that often include workers “exempt” from federal minimum wage laws. On top of that, there’s the additional confusion of laws and regulations that are in place at state and local levels.

If you have questions regarding minimum wage and hour laws and how they apply to your workplace, your industry and your job duties, please contact the Southern California employment law experts at Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik.