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Overview of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1986

written by: johnsinit•edited by: Jean Scheid•updated: 8/11/2010

The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1986 brought state and local government workers under the provisions of the Fair Labor Standards act that was originally signed into law in 1938. This law covers the payment of overtime and the minimum wage, as well as child labor provisions.

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    People Answers Free Digital Photos The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1986 was actually an implementation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938, a U.S. federal law. This law covers employees who engage in interstate trade, who are employed by a business that engages in commerce, or the manufacture of goods that are for commerce, unless the employer is allowed to claim exemption from coverage.

    Employers who do at least half a million dollars in gross sales or business in a year generally satisfy the commerce regulations in the FLSA, and therefore, the employees are subject to the protections of the laws unless other exemptions apply. Those other exemptions include “white collar" exemptions for administrative, professional, and executive employees. In those cases, the employer has to prove that the employees “plainly and unmistakably" fall within the definition of the exemption.

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    1938 Act Implementation

    The original FLSA set a national minimum wage, set conditions for child labor, and guaranteed overtime pay at a rate of 1.5 times the hourly rate for certain jobs. Though it was passed in 1938, it wasn’t until 1972 that state and local governments were included under the Act. Even then, it was not until the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1986 enforcement that governments were made to comply with the law. Only after a Supreme Court ruling in the case of Garcia v. San Antonio Metropolitan Transit Authority that applications of the FLSA to local and state governments was constitutional.

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    Not For Independent Contractors

    600px-US-DeptOfLabor-Seal-New svg The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1986 is still the main tool for protecting government workers’ rights and wages. However, it doesn’t apply to volunteers or independent contractors, who are not considered as employees under the FLSA of 1986. But employers can’t just exempt their employees by saying they are independent contractors, and a number of companies have run afoul of the law in this regard.

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    Going to Court

    Courts examine the economic reality in the employer / employee relationship to decide whether the worker is an independent contractor or an employee. Even if you determine that an employee is not exempt from overtime, there have been cases brought to court in which overtime has not been properly paid resulting in payment of monies due. These cases include when employees aren’t paid for travel time between job sites, required activities before or after their shifts, and preparation activities for work that are clearly central to their work duties. Employees entitled to overtime pay must get 1.5 times their regular pay rate for all work hours over 40 within the same work week.

    For employees who have been illegally underpaid under provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1986, the U.S. Department of Labor can recover back wages through the courts or administratively, and violations can result in litigation, either civil or criminal. Civil penalties may be imposed of up to $1,100 for every willful or repeated violation of the minimum wage or overtime provisions. Employees are also protected against discrimination or discharge for having filed a complaint or having been part of any proceeding under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1986.

    If you are unsure if an employee is due overtime pay, whether they are exempt or non-exempt or have other questions regarding the FLSA of 1986, make an appointment with your local Department of Labor. They can help you determine how to follow the law correctly.

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    US Department of Labor/Wage & Hour Division - (

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