The current “drought” is the longest period of time that the federal minimum wage has remained at a fixed amount. The federal minimum wage was first implemented in 1938. Until recently, the longest period without a hike in the minimum wage was 9 years and 3 months, for the minimum wage passed in January 1981 and raised in April 1990. On December 1, 2006 Congress passed the 9 years and 3 months mark, making this the longest time between increases in the minimum wage, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
That “drought” is likely to end in the next 30 days, as a new federal wage bill is signed into law.
Any new minimum wage is likely to involve a 3-step increase spaced over 26 months. First, the current minimum wage of $5.15 will be increased 70 cents 60 days after the bill is signed. The next increase will occur one year later, when the rate will be increased another 70 cents to $6.55. Finally, a year after that increase, the last of the 3 steps will go into effect. This is likely to include another 70-cent increase to a federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.
The federal minimum wage rate is particularly important in a state like Tennessee, which has no state minimum wage. Employers are required to keep a current federal minimum wage poster on display, even if every worker is paid more than the minimum wage.
It’s vital that employers in the Volunteer state update their Tennessee minimum wage poster. According to Tennessee Dept. of Labor and Workforce Development, employers must post a summary of the wage order in a conspicuous place in their establishment. A copy of the general work agreement must also be posted. Employers who don’t have a current federal or Tennessee minimum wage poster on display are in violation of the law.
Currently, there is no state minimum wage law in Tennessee as well as laws concerning overtime regulation of salaried employees. Tennessee’s employers abide by the United States Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division of the Fair Labor Standards Act regulating minimum wage, overtime and salaried employees which currently is $5.15 per hour.
In 2006 many legislators and lobbyists have worked on increasing the minimum wage to $6.15 per hour. In May 2006 the Tennessee House of Representatives worked on an amended Senate version to a new minimum wage law. The amended version provided for an exemption for student workers as provided under federal law as well as to exempt agricultural and nursery workers. No results were found on this piece of legislation.
Perhaps one of the stumbling blocks to passing a minimum wage in Tennessee is that very few workers in the state are currently making minimum wage. Approximately 1.5% of the state’s workforce or 40,000 workers are employed at minimum wage levels. A state survey shows that the majority of Tennessee’s minimum wage earners are either teenagers living at home and working for weekend pocket money or married individuals working part-time to supplement their spouse’s income. Fewer than 4,800 workers are single parents.
It was good to find that the Tennessee legislators did show some type of initiative to put in place a state minimum wage law. Because of rising costs in gasoline prices as well as living costs, working for minimum wage would still be difficult to live on. States that have raised their minimum wage to even $1.00 per hour have seen an increase in state revenue and a boost to their economies. There has been no jobs lost or businesses closed. With a new legislative session opening next year, there may be another opportunity for Tennessee to revisit a state minimum wage law.
The state of Tennessee has no wage laws concerning overtime, as it doesn’t have any particular state laws regarding other wage issues such as the minimum wage or regulations for the management of salaried employees.
Tennessee then defers, as we’ve seen in other states, to the laws of the United States Department of Labor, from its Wage and Hour Division. The department is responsible for enforcing the federal laws on overtime and other wage issues. This law—and the name of it could start having a familiar ring to it after we’ve talked about it so much—is called the Fair Labor Standards Act.
The Fair Labor Standards Act, or FLSA for short, is the law that regulates most things wage, including minimum wage, overtime issues, and the management of salaried employees. For detailed information on he FLSA, Tennessee employers and employees could look into the U.S. Department of Labor’s Web site, specifically the one for the Wage and Hour Division.
Or Tennessee employers and employees could get a pretty basic understand of what the federal law on overtime says by reading this here blog. The basic tenet of the Fair Labor Standards Act when it comes to overtime is that the federal government considers the average work week to consist of 40 hours.
That means that overtime kicks in for employers and employees when the employee works more than those 40 hours in a week, or seven-day period. What happens then? The employee ought to get overtime premium pay, which amounts to one and a half times their normal hourly wage, for all time over that 40 hour cutoff in a work week.
It’s interesting to know that in Tennessee, the federal law doesn’t cover all employers. The federal law technically only is for interstate employers in Tennessee, those with more than $500,000 in yearly revenue, and hospitals, schools, and government institutions, among others.
In researching state laws on the topic of lunches and breaks, I learned that Tennessee is one of a handful states that has a specific law mandating meal breaks for employees in the state. If a Tennessee employee has worked at least six consecutively in a given day, he or she must be given a 30 minute unpaid break.
For this break to qualify as unpaid, the worker must be completely relieved of his or her duties. If an employee must do any of his or her work duties during this break, it cannot qualify as an unpaid break. This statute applies to all workers of all ages. The Tennessee state law also mandates that this break not take place during or before the first hour of an employee’s shift.
The only exception written into the law is for workers who have ample opportunity during their work day to “rest or take appropriate breaks.” All other employers must give this break according to the law. Violation of this Tennessee law is considered a Class B misdemeanor. A fine of at least $100 but not more than $500 can be given to employers for each violation of the law. A civil penalty of between $500 and $1000 can also be imposed at the discretion of the Labor Commissioner if the violation is found to be willful.
Tennessee law does not provide for any other breaks during the workday other than this 30 minute unpaid meal period. However, if employers plan to give short breaks to workers during the day, Federal law states that these must be paid breaks if they are 20 minutes or less in length.
A helpful presentation of laws on this topic, as well as all other labor issues, can be found on the Tennessee Complete Labor Law Poster.