Massachusetts Fair Wage and the Fair Labor Standards Act

What sounds fair to you may not be fair to your employees — legal.

I’m a small private employer with three employees. I have two hourly and one salaried employee that work overtime. I would like to reward them with compensatory time for their extra hours of hard work. Can I do that?

You can usually give your salaried worker some compensatory time as a "bonus" or "reward " for going over and above your expectations. However, if your hourly employees have worked "extra hours " meaning more than 40 hours in a given week they must receive time and one-half for each hour worked over 40. As a private employer, you may not give compensatory time in lieu of wage to a non-exempt employee.

I don't know if my secretary is exempt or non-exempt. She seems to run my office and I think of her as a manager. Can I decide that she is exempt because she is in charge of my office?

To qualify as exempt from the overtime pay requirements under the Fair Labor Standards Test, an employee must “pass” the salary level test, the salary basis test, and the duties test. The employee must earn over $455 per week and receive full salary for any week in which she performs any work without regard to the number of days or hours she works. She must fall under the "administrative " exemption to the Fair Labor Standards Act, which involves many factors including the employee’s discretion to make independent judgment calls regarding matters of financial or legal importance to the company. If she is more of an executive or administrative assistant to you, and has been delegated authority regarding matters of significance, it is possible that she may qualify. A detailed job description should be created to determine the essential functions of her job and assess her decision-making and management duties. At the very least, you should change the "secretarial " title. If she is running your office, an exempt employee is more likely to have the title of office manager or administrator.

I have a small family-run business and I like to think that I can trust my employees to work only their regularly scheduled hours. Some of them work late fairly often. They are probably staying late with good intentions of catching up or getting ahead on the next day's project. However, I really can’t afford to pay overtime. I don’t want to pay them for this work, because I didn’t ask them to stay. They stayed on their own. What should I be doing?

Whether you asked them to stay or not you are aware that they are working more than 40 hours and you are allowing that to happen. In addition, you reap the benefit of the extra work. The law says that you must pay these employees. The fact that you did not request these extra hours will not be considered. Here are steps you should follow to address this issue in the future: 1) Let your employees know, categorically, that you do not want them to work overtime. 2) Explain that no overtime will be allowed if it is not authorized in writing by you. 3) Have written policies against working overtime. 4) Consider holding staff meetings where you can discuss your concerns about work schedules. 5) Review your policies and practices regularly regarding scheduling and overtime to ensure that the guidelines you set accurately address the current needs of your business. 6) You should also have quarterly meetings with your accountant and human resources professional about your wage obligations.

Am I required to pay my employees for lunch breaks?

You do not have to pay your employees if they are completely relieved from all their work tasks and duties while on the lunch break. However, if employees are answering phones or making copies for you during this time, that is not considered a "break" and they must be paid for time worked. Even if an employee "volunteers " to work at his desk while chewing his sandwich, he must be paid. Ideally, an employee should eat in a break room, conference room, or of f the premises so there i s no question of working at one’s desk .