The law requires most employers to pay workers the minimum wage and overtime. The federal minimum wage is currently $7.25. Missouri’s minimum wage is currently $8.60. Employers must pay overtime (time and a half) when an employee works more than 40 hours in a work week. An employer who fails to pay minimum wage or overtime violates the law even if the employee has agreed to be paid less. Para Español.
Common ways employers attempt to get around paying minimum wage and overtime:
- Instructing workers to do tasks off-the-clock. An employer must compensate employees for all of the work they do, from the moment they arrive at work until the moment they leave work.
- Charging workers for shortages, uniforms, etc. The law prohibits employers from taking money out of a worker’s check for cash drawer shortages, uniforms, etc., if doing so brings the worker’s hourly wage below the minimum wage.
- Requiring a worker to remain off the clock when business is slow. An employer cannot require a worker to show up at work and wait off-the-clock until business picks up or to punch out while business is slow.
- Tampering with timesheets. Managers facing pressure to keep “labor costs” low will sometimes delete hours from the system.
- Deducting hours for lunch or dinner breaks that were never taken. An employer does not have to pay an employee for meal breaks (usually 30-60 minutes). But an employer cannot dock a worker’s hours for breaks that were never actually taken. An employer does have to pay for breaks that are 20 minutes or less.
- Paying workers with two separate checks. If an employee works more than 40 hours in a week for the same employer, the employer must pay overtime, even if the employee receives more than one check or works at different locations.
- Failing to pay employees for training time. Employers must compensate workers for the time they spend training for the job.
- Treating employees as independent contractors. An independent contractor is a person with his or her own business, separate from the employer’s business. Employers do not have to pay the independent contractors they hire minimum wage or overtime. Employers sometimes violate the law by “misclassifying” employees as independent contractors.
- Treating hourly employees as salaried employees. Certain types of employees may be paid a salary (a set amount each pay period) instead of the minimum wage and overtime. An employer may only pay a salary to employees that have certain decision-making abilities or control over the workplace and the salary must be at least $455 per week.
- Underpaying tipped workers. Tipped workers can be paid the “sub-minimum wage” ($3.85 in Missouri for most employers) but only if the worker makes enough in tips and wages combined to equal the minimum wage of $7.70 per hour. An employer must give the tipped worker notice of her rights before paying the sub-minimum wage and the tips received belong to the employee, not the employer, even when they exceed the minimum wage. Tips may only be pooled among those workers who typically receive tips.
- Paying the sub-minimum wage for non-tipped work. If a tipped worker spends more than 20% of his time doing non-tipped work (e.g. food preparation, dish washing, maintenance), he must receive the full minimum wage for that time.
- Paying insufficient compensation for piece-rate work: When workers are paid by the number of pieces produced, the compensation must still amount to the minimum wage. Overtime requirements apply as well (time and a half or piece and a half).
Protecting yourself from wage and hour abuses:
- Get in the habit of recording your own hours. Use a phone app like this one or keep a small notepad with you. Write down the time you started, the time you took your lunch break (if you did), and the time you punched out. If you get punch slips, keep them in a folder. When you receive your check, compare the hours you recorded with the number of hours stated. If you worked more than forty, make sure you received time and a half for the extra hours.
- Keep your pay stubs and any handbooks, job descriptions, schedules or other documents provided to you by your employer (however, do not take any documents from your employer that you are not permitted to take).
- Write down the names of all people involved in suspected wrongdoing and all other workers affected by it.
What to do if you think your employer might be violating the law:
- You may call the Heartland Center for Jobs and Freedom for a free legal consultation. We are a nonprofit organization that helps low-wage workers access the legal and organizational support they need to protect their rights and connects low-wage workers to employment lawyers when needed. (816) 278-1092.
- Or, send us an email via the "Contact" page of this site.
- The law prohibits your employer from retaliating against you for reporting wage and hour abuses.