From agriculture to tourism and manufacturing to film, a variety of business sectors employ millions of people across Georgia.
If you believe you’ve been deprived of the compensation to which you’re legally entitled, please contact the Lore Law Firm. We represent employees who have been subjected to workplace wage and hour violations.
Understanding Georgia Wage laws
Georgia labor laws differ in some respects from the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, or FLSA, for issues like minimum wage. However, for the most part, the federal law applies to just about every common workplace compensation-related issue in the state.
While the current federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, Georgia has set the minimum wage at $5.15 per hour. Regardless of the state’s minimum wage, employers must adhere to the federal minimum wage if they are required to comply with the FLSA. The vast majority of employers in Georgia are subject to the FLSA and must pay employees at least the federal minimum wage as well as overtime pay.
If an employer’s sales are less than $40,000 annually, has a domestic employee or fewer than five employees, then the Georgia minimum wage does not apply. Farm owners are also not subject to Georgia minimum wage laws. Federal wage laws may still apply.
The Georgia Commissioner of Labor can also approve a lower minimum wage when companies employ disabled people who might otherwise have trouble finding a job.
Georgia has no state labor laws specific to overtime pay. As a result, the federal wage and hour law (FLSA) applies and requires overtime pay to covered, nonexempt employees under that law. An employer that either requires or permits an employee to work overtime is generally required to pay that employee overtime for those hours. Overtime is considered any hours worked over 40 hours per workweek, and the pay for overtime hours is at least one-and-a-half times an employee’s regular pay rate.
An employer doesn’t violate overtime laws by requiring employees to work overtime, (ie “mandatory overtime”), as long as they are properly compensated at the premium rate required by law.
When overtime doesn’t apply
Most workers in Georgia are entitled to overtime pay when they work more than 40 hours per week. In certain circumstances, however, there are exceptions.
Employees engaged in executive, administrative, or professional capacities (and paid at least $455 per week on a salary basis) are exempt from the overtime requirement. Note that new minimum salary requirements for overtime exemption are scheduled to take effect in January 2020. This change in federal law will also apply to most workers in Georgia when making the determination of whether they are classified as exempt or non-exempt from the overtime pay laws.
Misclassification of Independent Contractors
While there are situations in which workers are legitimately running their own business and properly treated as independent contractors who are not entitled to receive overtime, employers are not allowed to mischaracterize employee roles to avoid paying overtime compensation.
Merely labeling a worker as an independent contractor, or even entering into a written agreement, is not enough to avoid the labor laws on overtime pay. While there is no single definition of “independent contractor” in Georgia labor laws. There are several factors to be considered in determining if a worker in Georgia is an employee or independent contractor (a/k/a 1099 employee)
If properly classified as an independent contractor under Georgia law, workers are typically eligible for only the specific compensation bargained for in a contract.
Commissions and Bonuses
Commissions must be paid according to the terms of the agreement with the salesperson. Forfeiture provisions may be enforceable if they are clearly and unambiguously part of the agreement. The employer cannot recover commission advances to an employee absent express agreement providing such recovery. A sales representative must sue for breach of contract to recover unpaid commissions and, unlike a lawsuit for recovery of minimum wages, is not automatically entitled to recover attorneys’ fees.
Georgia law offers special protections to sales representatives for wholesale products. They must be paid all commissions owed within 30 days after termination of the sales representation contract. This right cannot be waived by contract. Employers who violate this provision may be liable to the sales representatives for double damages and attorneys’ fees. An employer may recover its attorneys’ fees if the court determines that an employee’s lawsuit is frivolous.
Bonuses must be paid according to the terms of the employment agreement and the employer’s policies. For example, an employee who quits prior to the end of the year has no right to a bonus if the employment agreement and/or the employer’s policies limit bonuses to those employees who are employed at the end of the year. A promise to pay a bonus is not enforceable if the amount is not specified or reasonably calculable (e.g. a portion of net revenue).
Meals and breaks
Georgia doesn’t require an employer to provide a meal period or breaks to employees. As a result, federal laws apply.
The FLSA doesn’t require an employer to provide either a meal period or breaks. However, if an employer chooses to do so, short breaks must be paid. Meal or lunch periods don’t have to be paid, so long as the employee is free to do as they wish during that time.
Similar to breaks, Georgia doesn’t require employers to provide workers with paid or unpaid vacation leave.
Many employers choose to provide vacation leave as part of a benefits packages to attract employees, however. In these situations, employers may set the policies, terms and conditions as to how and when such a benefit is used – including “use it or lose it” policies that state that terminating employees forfeit accrued but unused vacation time. However, any such policy must be clearly communicated to employees through handbooks or other published policies.
Statute of limitations
Georgia’s deadline for filing an overtime claim adheres to the FLSA, which requires those seeking to recover unpaid back overtime wages file a lawsuit within two years from the date of the employer’s wage violation. So a lawsuit filed today would be able to seek recovery of back overtime for only the prior 2 (sometimes 3) years.
As an example, suppose you believe that your employer has failed to pay you proper overtime wages since January 1, 2016. Waiting until June 1, 2019, to file your lawsuit means you are only allowed to seek unpaid wages from June 1, 2017, to June 1, 2019.
The statute of limitations may be extended to three years if an employer’s violation of the FLSA was willful. An FLSA violation is deemed willful if the employer knew that its conduct was prohibited by the FLSA or showed reckless disregard.
We’ve got your back
Following the wage laws in the workplace is vital to just about everyone in Georgia, and labor issues are complex. When problems arise that might impact your compensation, don’t stand idly by, allowing deadlines and your rights to expire.
As Georgia and federal labor law experts, our highly skilled lawyers specialize in fighting against unfair illegal pay practices.
We represent employees paid on salaried, hourly, commission and day-rate basis in an array of employment litigation matters, including unpaid overtime compensation claims. Our attorneys are passionate about protecting the rights of workers and have helped recover millions of dollars in unpaid overtime wages for our clients.