What Is The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)?

By Chris Kolmar
Oct. 26, 2022
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Many of us know that we are protected by certain labor laws and regulations, but we don’t know exactly what these protections offer. Whether you’re an employee or an employer, developing an understanding of the requirements and provisions laid out in the Fair Labor Standards Act can help you a lot in the long run.

Whether you’re trying to better understand your rights as a worker or to ensure that your workers are protected under the law’s requirements, this article can help.

In this article, we discuss what the FLSA is, and we break down some of the key components of this law. All of the information below comes from the United States Department of Labor, laid out in easy to understand ways.

Key Takeaways:

  • The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA) is a United States labor law that establishes many fundamental rights regarding workers and labor including:

    • Federal minimum wage

    • Overtime pay

    • Child labor laws

    • Recordkeeping

  • The federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, unless exempt, and each state has their own laws regarding their state minimum wage.

  • If an employee is at least 16 years of age, the FLSA does not limit the number of hours in a day or the number of days in a week they may be scheduled or required to work, including overtime hours.

What Is The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)?

What Is the FLSA?

The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA) is a United States labor law that establishes many fundamental rights regarding workers and labor. These rights include a federal minimum wage, overtime pay, child labor laws, recordkeeping, and more for part-time and full-time workers, whether in the private sector or local, state, or federal governments.

  • For workers in private employment, local and state government employment, and certain federal employees, including U.S. Postal Service workers and employees of the Library of Congress, the FLSA is enforced and administered by the Wage and Hour Division (WHD) of the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL).

  • For employees of other Executive Branch agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Justice, the FLSA is enforced by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. For employees of the Legislative Branch of government, the FLSA is enforced by the U.S. Congress.

  • For State and local government employees, special rules apply regarding the sections on volunteer services, fire protection and law enforcement activities, and compensatory time off rather than standard overtime pay.

  • FLSA is a U.S. law, and as such, there are many facets and nuances to this law that can make it seem a bit dense and intimidating on its face. We’ve done our best to give a quick and easy, yet informative, rundown of precisely who and what this law covers below.

Wages in the FLSA

The FLSA requires that wages be paid on a regular, expected payday for a given pay period.

  1. Minimum wage. Under the FLSA, covered workers are guaranteed a minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, unless exempt. This federal minimum wage was established as of July 24, 2009.

    This applies to workers in all 50 states, with certain provisions applying to workers in the regions of American Samoa and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

    Many states have their own minimum wage laws. In some cases where an employee is subject to both state and federal minimum wage, the employee is entitled to the higher minimum wage.

  2. Overtime pay. Workers (unless exempt) must also be paid “time and a half” overtime pay, or 1.5 times their standard rate. Overtime pay goes into effect after 40 hours of work in a single workweek (seven consecutive days).

    The standard rate of pay must be determined to calculate overtime pay and it includes:

    • The base rate

    • Bonuses

    • Commission

    • Piece rates

    • Incentives

    • Shift differentials
    • Training pay

    The FLSA does not require overtime pay for work on weekends, holidays or regular days of rest unless overtime is worked on such days.

  3. Deductions. If deductions are made from wages, for reasons including cash shortages, purchase of a required uniform, or tools used on the job, these deductions are only legal if they do not reduce the employee’s wage to below minimum wage, and if they do not reduce the overtime pay.

    In cases where it does not lower an employee’s wages to below the federal minimum, however, the value of board, lodging, and other facilities typically furnished for an employee’s benefit can be considered part of wages within reason.

  4. Tips. For tipped employees, the wage standards are slightly different. A tipped employee is defined as anyone engaged in an occupation where it’s typical to receive $30 or more in tips every month. For these occupations, tips can be considered part of wages, but employers must still pay at least $2.13 per hour directly.

    If an employer wants to use this tip credit provision, the employee must be informed of this before starting the job. The employer is also responsible for ensuring that an employee’s tips and direct wages combined are at least the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. If not, the employer must make up the difference.

    Also, when an employer uses the tip credit provision, they are required to let employees retain all tips made. This can be done either by directly allowing individual employees to keep personal tips made or through a valid tip sharing program.

  5. Subminimum wage. There are a few subminimum wage provisions laid out in the FLSA as well. Student-learners and other full-time students in service or retail establishments, agriculture, or institutions of higher education can be paid wages below the federal minimum.

    There are also certain instances in which individuals with an impaired earning capacity, such as those with a physical or mental disability, can be paid below minimum wage. While this may give you pause at first, keep in mind that this is not the case across the board and is only permitted in establishments with a strict WHD certificate.

    These subminimum wage provisions exist, for the most part, to increase employment opportunities for individuals who may otherwise struggle to find employment.

These are the basic standards of wage regulations, but there are some exemptions from these standards. These exemptions have to do with either specific types of businesses or particular kinds of work.

What Is Not Covered in the FLSA?

The FLSA is responsible for setting a standard federal minimum wage and overtime pay requirements, as well as regulating the employment of minors. Still, there are also quite a few things not regulated by the FLSA, including:

Though the FLSA requires a minimum wage, it does not provide collection or wage payment procedures for an employee’s promised or usual wage or commissions in excess of these requirements. Some states, however, do have laws regarding these claims, sometimes including fringe benefits.

If an employee is at least 16 years of age, the FLSA does not limit the number of hours in a day or the number of days in a week they may be scheduled or required to work, including overtime hours. However, if you do work overtime hours, the FLSA requires that you are paid overtime wages.

All of the above, uncovered labor practices are considered agreements between employer and employee, or, in some instances, they are further regulated by state or local laws.

Who Is Covered by the FLSA?

According to the FLSA, all non-exempt (explained below) enterprises that have employees engaging in interstate commerce, producing goods for interstate commerce, or selling, handling, or otherwise working on goods or materials that have been moved in or produced for interstate commerce are covered by the FLSA.

In other words, any enterprise doing business across multiple states in any single area of operation is subject to the FLSA requirements.

  • A nonexempt enterprise is the above activities performed through unified operation or common control by any person for a common business purpose, as well as any one (or more) of the following:

    • Annual gross volume of sales made or business done is $500,000 or more, not including retail taxes.

    • Engaged in the operation of a hospital, an institution that primarily cares for sick, aged, or mentally ill people who reside on the premises.

    • Engaged in the operation of a preschool, an elementary school, a secondary school, a higher education institution (for-profit or not-for-profit), or a school for physically or mentally disabled or gifted students.

    • Is an activity of a public agency.

  • This “$500,000 test” was officially revised in the FLSA on March 31, 1990, but organizations that were covered before this date are still subject to the overtime pay, child labor, and recordkeeping requirements of the FLSA.

  • Individual employees of exempt enterprises may still be covered by the FLSA and protected by minimum wage, overtime pay, recordkeeping, and child labor laws in certain circumstances. These include if the employee is individually engaged in interstate commerce, the production of goods for interstate commerce, or any related task necessary for production.

    Examples of such employees include:

    • Employees who regularly use telephones, telegraphs, or mail for interstate communication

    • Employees who work in transportation or communications

    • Employees who keep records of interstate transactions

    • Employees who receive, ship, or handle goods moving from interstate commerce

    • Employees who regularly travel across states in the course of their work

    • Employees who work for independent employers who contract to do custodial, clerical, maintenance, or other work for firms engages in interstate commerce or producing goods for interstate commerce

  • Certain domestic service workers, such as housekeepers, nannies, day workers, chauffeurs, or cooks, are also covered by the FLSA. These workers are covered if:

    • Their cash wages from a single employer are $1,700 or more

    • They work more than eight hours per week for one or more employers

To recap, it’s pretty difficult for a business, an organization, or anyone with serious employees to be exempt from the FLSA. Employers that rely on federal infrastructure to conduct their business, in the broadest definition of the term, will be subject to the FLSA.

Child Labor Laws

The FLSA includes a series of child labor provisions designed to, essentially, protect the wellbeing of children. These provisions exist to prioritize childhood education opportunities and prevent children from working in conditions and industries that are detrimental to their health, safety, or development.

These provisions include restrictions on hours of work for children under 16 years old and lists of occupational orders in both farm and non-farm work that are considered too hazardous for children to perform.

  1. The regulations of child labor in non-farm jobs are different from that of agricultural jobs. When it comes to non-farm work, the following provisions apply:

    • Minors 14 and 15 years old can work outside of school hours in a variety of non-manufacturing, non-mining, non-hazardous jobs.

    • Minors 14 and 15 years old may work no more than three hours on a school day, 18 hours in a school week, 8 hours on a non-school day, or 40 hours in a non-school week.

    • Minors 14 and 15 years old may not have scheduled work beginning before 7 a.m. or ending after 7 p.m., except from June 1 through Labor Day, when work may be scheduled until 9 p.m.

    • In accordance with a special provision, minors 14 and 15 years old may be enrolled in an approved Work Experience and Career Exploration Program (WECEP), where they may be employed for up to 23 hours during school weeks and three hours on school days (including during school hours). They may also be enrolled in an approved Work-Study Program (WSP) during school hours.

    • Minors 16 and 17 years old may perform any nonhazardous job, for unlimited hours.

    • Youths (non-minors) 18 years and older may perform any job, whether hazardous or non-hazardous, for unlimited hours.

    For most non-farm work, 14 years old is the minimum age of employment. However, there are some jobs where children of any age may be permitted employment.

    These jobs include performing in television, movies, or theatrical productions, delivering newspapers, or working for their parent’s solely-owned non-farm business (except in manufacturing, mining, or any hazardous job).

  2. When it comes to farm work, the laws are a bit different. For youths employed in farm work, the following provisions apply:

    • Minors under 12 years old may perform non-hazardous jobs on farms owned or operated by a parent, or with a parent’s written consent, outside of school hours, not covered by minimum wage requirements.

    • Minors 12 and 13 years old may work in nonhazardous jobs outside of school hours, either on the same farm as a parent or with a parent’s written consent.

    • Minors 14 and 15 years old may perform any nonhazardous farm jobs outside of school hours

    • Minors 16 years old and older may perform any job, whether hazardous or not, for unlimited hours

    At any age, minors may be employed by their parents in any job on a farm owned or operated by their parents. These provisions intend to keep in mind the tradition of family farming practices, while still setting reasonable limitations.

    Finally, there are certain youth minimum wage provisions that may apply to youth work. For employees under 20 years of age, a minimum wage of no less than $4.25 is permitted during the first 90 consecutive days of their employment. However, employers may not take any action to displace employees in order to hire employees at youth minimum wage.


Another major requirement of the FLSA is recordkeeping. The FLSA requires that employers keep records of wages, hours, and other items specified by the DOL. These records are required so that labor practices may be supervised. Most of the information is already generally kept track of by employers in the ordinary course of business practice.

The necessary records do not need to be organized or kept in any particular way, outside of the requirement that time clocks must be used to keep track of employee hours. In general, the following records must be kept:

  • Employee’s personal information, including name, home address, occupation, sex, and birthdate (if under 19 years old)

  • Hour and day when workweek begins

  • Total hours worked each workday and each workweek.

  • Total daily or weekly straight-time earnings

  • Regular hourly pay rate for any week when overtime is worked

  • Total overtime pay for the workweek

  • Additions to or deductions from wages

  • Total wages paid each pay period

  • Date of payment and pay period covered

These are the requirements for nonexempt employees, but exempt employees will have slightly different recordkeeping requirements. ‘

Such employees include homeworkers, employees for whom lodging or other facilities are given, employees working under non-standard pay arrangements, and employees receiving remedial education.

Nursing Mothers

One of the more recent amendments to the FLSA is a requirement to provide break time for nursing mothers. This change came courtesy of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA).

According to this amendment, employers must provide adequate break time for employees to express breast milk for at least one year after the birth of a child, and any time otherwise an employee may need to express milk. It is to be expected and accommodated that the frequency of breaks and break time duration will vary depending on the employee’s need.

Employers are required to provide a private, non-bathroom space for employees to express breast milk that is shielded from view and will not be intruded upon by coworkers or the public. These requirements are in effect insofar as no other state laws offer greater protection.

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Chris Kolmar

Chris Kolmar is a co-founder of Zippia and the editor-in-chief of the Zippia career advice blog. He has hired over 50 people in his career, been hired five times, and wants to help you land your next job. His research has been featured on the New York Times, Thrillist, VOX, The Atlantic, and a host of local news. More recently, he's been quoted on USA Today, BusinessInsider, and CNBC.

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