Fair Labor Practices

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938 provides a lucid guideline about acceptable employment practices. The Act prescribes the mode of calculating overtime pay, minimum wages, and the suitable persons for employment among others.

The legislation covers all workers, including those working for the state and federal government as well as the private employers. Any employer who violates the stipulations of the Act may be liable. Problems of ambiguity arises where the Act is not clear about who qualifies to benefit under the law in some certain circumstances.

Definition of an Employee under The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938

The interpretation of the word ‘employees’ under the FLSA presents difficulties in identifying persons covered under the Act. The legislation considers the term ‘employ’ to mean ‘suffer or permit’ to work. An employee under the Act is any person hired by an employer. It does not expressly define workers who qualify as employees to deserve a minimum wage and overtime payment (Miller, 1999).

Businesses fail to pay workers because they are not sure whether they are covered under the Act. For example, in the case of Watson V. Graves (1990), it became a problem determining whether prison inmates who worked for private parties outside the jail were ‘employees’ according to the Act.

In the case, the plaintiff inmates brought an action under the FLSA to recover unpaid minimum and overtime wages. During the time, the plaintiffs were serving jail sentence in the Livingstone Parish jail because of taking part in nonviolent offenses. The complainants were not to perform hard labor in the course of their sentence. They were participating in voluntary work release program, supervised by the Livingstone Parish sheriff.

The prisoners were assigned to private parties where they performed different duties. In September 1987, they had been assigned to work for a private construction company belonging to the defendant’s sister and brother-in-law, which was outside the prison. The defendant limited the pay for every prisoner to twenty dollars per day, regardless of nature as well as the amount of work performed.

The governing law, which is the FLSA, prescribes the minimum wages per hour for every employee. Additionally, it provides for the payment of employees for extra hours worked. An employer who violates these provisions is liable to the employee. An employer is defined in the Act as any person acting directly or indirectly inhis/her own interests in relation to an employee.

The Supreme Court has held that employment relations are to be determined by economic realities Goldberg V. Whitaker House Coorporative, Inc. (1961). The economic realities were explained in the case of Bonnette (1983) to include factors such as whether the employer had the power to hire, fire, control, and supervise employees, determine their rate of pay as well as keep their records.

Basing on the court reasoning in Bonnette (1961), the defendant violated the rights of the inmates protected under the FLSA. The defendant had powers to choose the prisoners to take part in the activities. He exercised control and supervision over them as well as prescribed their pay. Despite the absence of evidence of an international violation, the defendant is liable under the circumstance.

In the present case, Watson V. Graves (1990), the court found for the plaintiff. The Fifth Circuit applied the Bonnette (1961) principles in holding that the inmates were properly working as employees in the circumstance. The court held the economic realities of prisoners ought to be taken into account when they are working outside the jails.

From the foregoing, it clear that the only way employers can ensure they are not caught is similar circumstances is by ensuring they consider the economic realities as well as the prescribed legal minimum wages when deciding the income for their employees.

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