Know Your Rights in the Workplace
People often have questions about employee rights. They want to know what protections they have under the law. Most jobs held in the U.S. are covered by the Fair labor Standards Act (FLSA), a federal law that regulates minimum wage, overtime, equal pay, record keeping, and child labor for all organizations dealing in interstate or international commerce and also for employees of state and local governments. Arizona also has its own laws governing wages and hours of employment. When there is conflict between the state law and the federal law, the law most beneficial to the employee prevails.
Are You an Employee or an Independent Contractor?
While employees are covered by federal and state labor laws, independent contractors are not. Generally, employees receive a regular wage, taxes are deducted, and they receive a W2 form at the end of the year. Independent contractors may be paid at intervals or at the end of the job. No taxes are deducted, and they receive a 1099 form at the end of the year. Sometimes the difference between the two can be a bit fuzzy. The key is the degree of control the employer has.
• Does the company have the right to control what work is being done and the details of exactly how and when the job is done?
• Does the company control the business side of the job? Does it dictate how the worker is paid, what expenses are reimbursed, and who is responsible for getting tools and supplies?
• Is there a written contract or an employee handbook setting out things like pension benefits, vacation time, health insurance and sick time?
• Will the relationship continue or is it a short-term, one-time job?
• Is the work being performed a key part of the company’s business?
Minimum Wage Regulations
Minimum wage regulations apply only to employees. Beginning January 1, 2020, the minimum wage in Arizona rose to $12 per hour. There are a few exceptions that you should know. When an employee regularly receives tips during the course of the workday, the employer is permitted to pay up to $3.00 per hour less than minimum wage. However, the tip plus wage total must not be less than the minimum wage. For example: a waiter in a busy restaurant gets paid $9.00 per hour. During the course of his eight-hour shift, he makes $40 in tips or $5.00 per hour in tips. Because 5+9 is more than 12, it is permissible to pay him less than minimum wage. For tips to count toward minimum wage, they must be the employee’s property and not under the control of the employer. Wages must be paid at least twice a month on fixed pay dates that are not more than 16 days apart.
In addition to employees who earn tips, there are several other categories of employees who are not required to receive minimum wage. They are:
• Those who work for a parent or a sibling,
• Those who work for the U.S. government or for the state of Arizona.
Employers cannot withhold wages unless required to do so by state or federal law (such as wage garnishments for child support). They may also withhold if there is a reasonable, good faith dispute over the amount of wages owed. Terminated employees must receive their final check for completed work (1) seven workdays following the date of termination, or (2) the employer’s next designated pay day, whichever comes first. Employees who resign receive their final check on the next designated pay day.
When Must Employers Pay Overtime?
Employers in Arizona must pay non-exempt employees at a rate of time and a half (1½) for every hour in excess of 40 hours per week they work. Overtime for public employees may be calculated on a bi-weekly basis. Almost everyone who earns less than $23,600 per year is a non-exempt employee. The key to understanding the overtime rules is knowing who qualifies as a non-exempt employee. The most common categories of exempt employees are:
• Farm workers
• Mechanics and Partsmen
• Administrative employees
• Executive employees
• Professional employees
Even though administrative, executive, and professional employees are exempt under the FLSA, they are still covered by Arizona’s minimum wage laws. The employer is required to pay them a salary that equals or exceeds minimum wage for all the hours they work. For example: Jane, an office administrator, works 60 hours a week. Her weekly salary must be at least $720.00 (60 x $12) to comply with Arizona law. There are specific salary and management tests under the FLSA to determine who is an exempt employee. Those are rather complex and will not be detailed here. For more information, read the overtime site listed in resources at the end of this article.
What About Wage Rules for Being On-Call, for Training Time, Travel Time, etc.?
The FLSA and Arizona Minimum Wage Law set out standards to govern what is considered compensable work time and how work time is to be compensated. Under Arizona law, an employee is considered to be on compensable duty if he is actively working or waiting to work and is not permitted to use the time for his own purposes. AZ Admin. Code R20-5-1202(22).
On-call time is compensable only when the employee is unable to use the time for his or her own purposes. If you can stay home, watch TV, or go out to eat, the time you are on-call is not compensable. AZ. Admin. Code R20-5-1202(22). Arizona law does not address paying for sleeping time, travel time, meeting time, or training time.
The FLSA does offer some guidance on training time. Training time must be counted as work time unless four conditions are met:
• The attendance is outside the employee’s regular work hours,
• The attendance is voluntary,
• The meeting, seminar, or training is not directly related to the employee’s job, and
• The employee does not perform productive work while attending.
Break time is another issue that arises in employment law. There is no requirement in Arizona law that an employee be given break time or lunch periods. However, if breaks are given, federal law requires wages be paid for all breaks of 20 minutes or less. Lunch breaks of 30 minutes or more are not required to be compensated.
There is no requirement in Arizona law that employees be paid while on jury duty. However, an employer may not fire an employee who complies with a summons for jury duty; nor can the employer require the employee to use vacation or sick time while serving as a juror.
Vacation, Holidays, and Sick Time
Arizona law does not require employees to receive paid vacation time or to be compensated for holidays. Employers who elect to offer vacation time must comply with internal policies and procedures. A.R.S. §23-350(5). Employers may institute a use it or lose it policy for vacation time so long as employees are given a reasonable opportunity to use the time they have accrued. There is no legal requirement in Arizona law that employers must pay accrued vacation when an employee leaves the company.
In 2016, Arizona passed the Fair Wages and Healthy Families Act which requires all employers with 15 or more employees to pay sick time. Employees can accrue up to 40 hours of earned sick time each year. A.R.S. § 23-372. It accrues at a rate of one hour of sick time for every 30 hours worked.
When Legal Employment Rights are Violated?
If you believe your employer has violated your rights, you can file a complaint with the Industrial Commission of Arizona. Go to: https://www.azica.gov/claims-filing-claim. You can also file a complaint with the United States Department of Labor. Go to: https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd.
Know Your Rights in the Workplace
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