Sweatshop Labor Laws

The U.S. Department of Labor defines a sweatshop as a factory that violates more than one of the U.S. labor laws, such as paying minimum wage, paying overtime, paying on time, and maintaining time cards. The Fair Labor Standards Act was written to directly address workplace issues commonly associated with sweatshop labor, such as minimum and overtime wage pay, child labor restrictions, and recordkeeping guidelines. The Act also works in tandem with state laws to prevent the abuse and mistreatment of workers.

Fair Labor Standards Act

The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA) was drafted to protect workers' rights and establish equal grounds for communication between labor and management. Although it has been amended many times over the years, the FLSA sets the minimum wage and establishes overtime pay, recordkeeping, and youth employment standards. The FLSA applies to private sector employees and those who work for the federal, state, and local governments. For example, the FLSA sets the 40-hour standard workweek. In a situation where an employee works 44 hours in one week and 36 in the next, the FLSA prohibits employers from averaging the hours into two 40-hour weeks. Instead, the employee must be paid overtime for the four hours excess time worked in the 44-hour week.

Read More: Summary of the Fair Labor Standards Act

Child Labor Restrictions

Youth provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act apply standards that vary based on the child's age. For example, Federal Law mandates that children 14-15 years of age cannot work more than 3 hours on school days, and 8 hours on nonschool days. They are also limited to a maximum of 40 hours per week during nonschool (vacation) times. However, these standards do not apply to minors 16 years old or greater. Children who are 16 may work an unlimited amount of hours so long as overtime, minimum wage, and other provisions are met. When children turn 18, the youth provisions of the FLSA no longer apply.

Family Medical Leave Act

Before the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was passed, employers had sole discretion over how much time an employee could take off for family or medical purposes. Employees could be denied leave by their employers, or could find themselves terminated for taking time off for medical or family reasons. In passing the FMLA, Congress set minimum uniform leave standards that allow employees to receive benefits previously denied by employers. The FMLA allows employees to take up to 12 weeks off in any 12-month period for birth or adoption of a child, to care for a family member, or to care for ones own serious medical condition. However, when both the employee and spouse work for the same employer, the FMLA does not allow both to take 12 weeks off at the same time for the same reason.


Article IV of the U.S. Constitution, known as the Supremacy Clause, establishes the Constitution as the supreme law of the land by mandating that where federal and state laws conflict on an issue, federal law trumps the state laws. However, the Department of Labor has indicated that where state labor laws conflict with the Fair Labor Standards Act, whichever law provides more protection to employees shall be applied in that state. As a result, employers can be held to higher standards, and employees can receive greater workplace protection, from state laws than from the FLSA. For example, Connecticut State law requires that wages paid within the State must be 1/2 of 1 percent above what is established in the FLSA. While Connecticut's law conflicts with Federal standards it provides better benefits for employees. As a result, employers in Connecticut must pay the State wage standard.

Independent Contractors

The Fair Labor Standards Act was intended to apply to any individual working for any employer. However, it does not apply to independent contractors because they are not considered "employees" under the Act. As a result, many companies have illegally classified their employees as independent contractors to get around the law. When faced with this kind of issue, courts tend to look at the nature of the economic contract between the employer and the individual(s) to determine whether or not there is an employer/employee relationship and whether the individual is entitled to protection under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

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