Examples of Workplace Violations

Palm tree postcard in employee timecard slot.
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I get questions all the time about employee rights. Job seekers want to know about what happens with overtime if they are considered an exempt employee. They also wonder about unused vacation time and commission and bonuses when they leave their job.

Employees ask about overtime, comp time, wages, and other related issues. Employment law can be confusing and it can be difficult to learn what your rights are and what you are entitled to.

Jim Sokolove, Founder, Sokolove Law, shares information on what employees should be aware of regarding their rights when it comes to vacation and comp time, overtime, commission, minimum wage, and other worker's rights that are regulated by law.

The following are the top ten workplace violations that employees should be aware of:

1. Unpaid Compensable Time
When your duties include putting on or taking off a uniform or personal protective equipment, performing a stock inventory, setting up and cleaning your work area or attending a change-of-shift-meeting, you're entitled to your regular wages for the time you are engaged in those activities. You're also entitled to compensation for any "extra" hours you work, such as working through your lunch break, even if your employer didn't require you to work the extra time. These are all considered compensable time.

2. Unpaid Vacation Time
The FLSA (Fair Labor Standards Act) does not require employers to pay employees for vacation time.

However, if the employer does provide paid vacation, the time accrued (collected) becomes part of the employee's compensation. If you were fired or quit, you are entitled to payment for vacation time accrued as per company policy.

3. "Use It or Lose It" Vacation Time
Some employers who provide vacation time adopt a "use it or lose it" policy, where they requires employees who don't use their accumulated vacation by the end of the year to lose that time all together.

You should know that use-it-or-lose-it policies are illegal in some states.

4. Unpaid Commission or Bonus
Bonuses and commissions are not regulated by the FLSA. Whether or not you're entitled to bonuses or commissions is determined by your agreement with your employer and the laws of the state where you work. Your compensation may include commissions or bonuses based on performance benchmarks, such as production or sales quotas. If you've achieved those benchmarks, you are entitled to receive the commission or bonus promised by your employer.

5. Misclassification of Employees as Exempt Workers
exempt employees are not entitled to receive overtime pay as guaranteed by the FLSA. Although confusion about exemption rules is common among both employers and employees, exemptions have nothing to do with your title or job description. Whether you receive a salary rather than an hourly wage is not enough to determine your status either. Be aware of your salary level and job duties, as they are the determining factors for your classification.

6. Independent Contractor Status
Independent contractor, by definition, are self-employed workers who are not covered by the tax and wage laws that apply to employees.

This is because employers do not pay Social Security, Medicare or federal unemployment insurance taxes on independent contractors. If you are not an independent contractor, make sure your employer isn't classifying you as one.

7. Unpaid or Improperly Calculated Overtime Pay
Under the FLSA, overtime pay rules are based on a 40-hour workweek. The FLSA states that all work over 40 hours in a workweek must be paid at a rate of one and one-half times the employee's regular hourly rate. Non-exempt employees may be paid on a weekly, bi-weekly, semi-monthly or monthly basis, but overtime is always calculated by the Monday through Friday workweek. Make sure you're keeping track of your hours worked.

8. Comp Time Instead of Overtime Pay
Compensatory time, commonly referred to as "comp time," is generally paid time off granted instead of overtime wages.

For example, rather than paying employees time-and-a-half for overtime during a busy season, a business may offer comp time to be taken at a later date. While comp time may be legal depending on the classification of the employee, it must always be paid at the same rate as overtime wages: 150%. Make sure you are receiving compensation for overtime work.

9. False Reporting
Many employers establish rules that overtime work will not be permitted or paid without advance authorization. Some choose to "look the other way" when non-exempt employees work overtime and don't allow those hours to be reported. These policies don't comply with the FLSA.

10. Minimum Wage Violations
As of July 24, 2009, the federal minimum wage for most covered employees is $7.25 per hour. Some exceptions include student workers and certain disabled workers, who may be paid at a lower rate. The minimum wage for young workers under the age of 20 is $4.25 per hour during their first 90 days of employment only. And workers who receive tips on the job may be paid a minimum hourly rate of $2.13, as long as the hourly rate plus tips received totals at least $7.25.