State and Federal Employment Compliance

Wages & Benefits Information Center

Frequently Asked Questions about Wages and Benefits

Q: How often does the minimum wage increase?

A: No regular increase schedule exists. The federal minimum wage has been $7.25 per hour since a July 2009 increase. Previous to that increases were erratic, sometimes remaining frozen for many years while for the most part prices soared. While President Barack Obama pledged to increase the minimum wage when elected, thus far this has not happened. Most states have enacted their own minimum-wage provisions, several of which are higher than the federal rate. In any given state, the higher of the state or federal rate will apply to workers covered under both schemes and the state rate will apply to employees not subject to the federal law.

Q: What is the prevailing wage?

A: Federal laws and those in most states require that private employers with government contracts pay their employees working on these public contracts the prevailing wage, meaning no less than the usual wages and benefits that comparable workers in the locality are paid. The prevailing wages for workers employed under government contracts are determined by government laws or regulations.

Q: What benefits must I receive from my employer?

A: Although many do to remain competitive, most employers are not required by law to provide secondary benefits, such as health insurance or retirement. If an employer does provide such a benefit plan, federal and state laws heavily regulate coverage, tax and other issues. Most employers must contribute to Social Security and Medicare, provide workers’ compensation and pay unemployment taxes. Under certain circumstances, employers may be required to allow for time off for military service, jury duty, unpaid family and medical leave, voting or religious matters. A few states require that employers provide short-term disability benefits or factory-closure severance pay.

Q: Are there certain holidays when I am not required to work?

A: As a practical matter, many employers publicly observe major holidays by providing time off for employees. However, no federal law requires that you have certain holidays off, unless you are an employee of the federal government or working on certain federal contracts. Holidays are, with some exceptions, matters of negotiation between you and your employer. State and local laws, however, may require that no business be conducted on certain holidays and employers may need to make some accommodation for religious holidays.

Q: When is payday?

A: Federal law does not specify when or how often employees must be paid. However, most states have enacted laws that require employees to be paid at certain times; for example, some state laws require that employees be paid no less than once every month and some states require employers to designate particular calendar days for payment. These laws vary widely from state to state.

Q: Should I be paid extra for overtime work?

A: Unless you work in particular white-collar occupations or for certain small employers, federal law requires payment of time plus one-half for each hour worked over 40 in a workweek. For overtime calculation purposes, paid time off does not count toward the total of 40 hours in a given week. Your state’s labor laws may contain broader or more generous overtime provisions that may apply to your situation.

Q: How much break time do I get?

A: Federal law does not compel employers to provide specific breaks or meal times. It does require employers to provide pay for certain types of short rest or snack breaks, if they are allowed. Meal breaks, however, are not compensable under federal law because employees are considered relieved of their duties. Your state law or a union agreement may provide for more generous break and meal terms.

Q: What is a 401(k) plan?

A: A 401(k) is a retirement savings plan into which the employee authorizes part of his or her wages to be transferred for long-term investment. Some employers match employees’ contributions up to certain caps. Some 401(k) plans allow employees to borrow against the amounts saved or to withdraw funds without penalty in certain hardship situations. Withdrawal may trigger a significant penalty if done before retirement age or outside of certain sanctioned events, so it is advisable to consult an attorney or the plan administrator before a withdrawal.