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'Epidemic' of Wage and Hour Violations: Labor Dept.

According to a lawyer from the Department of Labor, there is currently an onslaught of wage and hour violations. Companies need to ensure that they are in compliance with federal wage and hour law.

"Right now I think what we see is nothing short of an epidemic," said the department's solicitor, Patricia Smith. Low-wage workers all over the country are being denied even their minimum wage and overtime, Smith said.

The Labor Department found wage-and-hour violations in 79% of investigations based off complaints, and in 71% of direct investigations, Reuters reports. For business owners, here are a three reminders to ensure that you're not one of these violators:

1. The Fair Labor Standards Act.

Wage-and-hour violations are most commonly committed unintentionally, because many employers are unaware of what the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) says. The FLSA is a federal statute that essentially governs wage and hour laws. Most workplaces are required to post a copy of the FLSA in a visible location so that employees can be informed of what their rights are. Make sure that you as an employer know as well.

2. Minimum Wage Laws.

As of July 2009, the federal minimum wage is currently $7.25 per hour. State minimum wages also vary, and when they are different from the federal rate, the worker is usually entitled to the higher wage. Paying your employee any less than that is a direct violation.

3. Overtime Pay.

Overtime pay is usually where most of the wage-and-hour violations occur. There are two things to pay particular attention to.

First, whatever your overtime policy may be, the overtime amount paid cannot be less than one and a half times the amount of the regular hourly rate your employee is getting paid. Secondly, unpaid overtime is illegal as well. While the FLSA often spells out which employees are exempt from overtime, make sure that you are in compliance; don't miscategorize your employees just to save money.

Of course you'll want to ensure that your employees are always working on the clock, and not while they are on breaks or after hours. For answers to more specific questions about potential wage and hour violations at your business, you may want to consult an experienced employment lawyer near you.

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