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American Bar Standards

Employment / Labor Law

Fair Labor Standards Act

Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), also Federal Wage and Hour Law, measure enacted by the United States Congress in 1938 to eliminate labor conditions injurious to the health and efficiency of workers, and unfair methods of competition based on these conditions. The act prohibited the introduction into interstate commerce of goods produced in violation of its provisions. It provided for a minimum wage of 25 cents an hour, required the payment of overtime at a rate of at least time and one half the regular rate of pay for hours in any work week in excess of 44, and prohibited "oppressive child labor." A subsequent increase of the minimum wage to 40 cents, and a decrease in the maximum nonovertime hours to 40, was incorporated in the original law. Over the years the act has been amended periodically to raise the minimum wage, reduce the hours that could be worked without overtime pay, and extend the coverage to many more low-income workers. The Equal Pay Act of 1963 also amended the FLSA by prohibiting wage differentials based on sex.

II EXEMPTIONS The act contains exemptions from its provisions for executive, administrative, professional, and academic employees; certain farm workers; full-time students; learners and apprentices; handicapped workers; and workers in some specialized or seasonal employment. In Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and American Samoa, industry-wage orders calling for subminimum rates may be fixed.

The act also gives partial exemptions from the overtime-pay provisions for workers in industries that are found by the secretary of labor to be seasonal, as well as for persons working under union contracts specifying certain hours, and attained through the process of collective bargaining by a union certified by the National Labor Relations Board.

III OPPRESSIVE CHILD LABOR Oppressive child labor is generally defined as the employment of children under the age of 16, except for children between 14 and 16 years of age working under nonhazardous conditions that do not interfere with their schooling, health, or well-being. The minimum age for employment in hazardous occupations is 18. Children of any age may, however, be employed as theatrical performers and may work in agriculture outside school hours.
Enforcement is the responsibility of the Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor. Willful violations of the law are punishable by fines and imprisonment.

IV CONTROVERSY As the minimum wage has risen, the law has increasingly come under attack. Critics contend that the minimum wage limits employment opportunities, especially for young people and the elderly. Most workers, however, favor a minimum wage as being necessary to maintain an adequate standard of living.

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