Both the federal government and state governments have the right to enact laws protecting employees, including wages and working conditions. The most important federal law regarding employee protection is the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA). It applies to workers in all states. The FLSA sets a minimum hourly wage for workers, defines a workweek and requires overtime pay.
No state can reduce these protections, but states can enact employment laws that provide employees with additional protections. Ohio is one of the many states that enacted laws providing higher minimum wages for its workers than those provided in the FLSA. However, it does not increase other protections. Neither the FLSA nor Ohio labor laws regulate rest periods between work shifts.
Federal vs. Ohio Minimum Wage Laws
The minimum wage laws are the core of the employee wage and hour laws. Workers who are paid by the hour depend on their hourly wage for both regular and overtime pay.
The federal FLSA sets a minimum wage that sets the low-bar minimum for hourly wages in every state. Although the federal Fair Labor Standards Act has been amended at various times over the years to increase the federal minimum wage, as of 2022, it still rests at the very low sum of $7.25 an hour. A worker receiving this minimum wage who works 40 hours a week will earn only $290.00 a week.
The federal law gives every state the authority to enact higher minimum wage laws for employees who work within their boundaries. While it is possible for a state to enact lower minimum wages, there is no practical value since the FLSA says that a worker is permitted to rely on the higher hourly minimum wage, whether that be the federal wage or the state wage.
Current Minimum Wage Rates
Ohio's 2022 minimum wage is currently set at $9.30 an hour for most employers. This is above the federally mandated minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, so Ohio workers are entitled to rely on the state wage.
Mandatory Overtime in the State of Ohio
Some workers thrive on overtime and are the first to volunteer for extra hours. Others try to avoid it and look to overtime regulation to protect them from having to work longer hours. But employees who look to the overtime laws to protect them from mandatory overtime will be disappointed.
Nothing in the federal laws or Ohio laws discuss mandatory overtime for adults. Both levels of government have left the number of hours worked to the agreement between the employer and the employee. The Fair Labor Standards Act allows employers to require overtime for employees who are 16 years old or older.
The federal act also allows businesses to sanction or fire employees who refuse to work overtime. Only a few exceptions apply for religious observance, disabilities, family leave and illness. Ohio law does not include any statutes that change these provisions.
What Is a Workweek?
Federal law, and Ohio law, define a workweek as 40 hours of work. Some workers believe that the FLSA and Ohio law limit the time that an employee must work to no more than 40 hours a week, but this is not the case. The law sets the base workweek at 40 hours in any seven consecutive workdays.
It provides that if the employer requires additional hours, they must add supplemental pay to an hourly worker's wage for every hour over this base workweek. The overtime rate is set at time-and-a-half.
Calculating Employee Overtime Wage Rates
Both overtime and regular wages of a minimum wage worker are determined by the minimum wage rate. Those working at the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour will get $10.88 an hour overtime. Those working at Ohio's minimum wage of $9.30 an hour will get $13.45 an hour during hours of overtime.
But overtime also applies to workers earning more than minimum wage. Workers who earn an hourly wage above the minimum wage must be paid 150 percent of their regular hourly wage as overtime.
How to calculate hourly wage for a worker who earns a weekly salary? The employer must divide the weekly rate by the weekly hours. If the sum is under the minimum wage, they must calculate overtime by dividing the weekly wage by 40.
What Is Included in Regular Wages?
An employer must include in that regular wage all money paid to the employee, including shift differentials, bonuses, and commissions, although they do not have to include business expenses, gifts, employer investment contributions, and vacation and holiday pay, or sick leave. As is true for minimum wage laws, states can supplement overtime rights, but Ohio law does not do this.
Nonexempt Employees Are Protected
The Fair Labor Standards Act only benefits "nonexempt" employees. Neither independent contractors nor freelancers are eligible. That is why the issue of independent contractor vs. employee is such a controversial one and often litigated in court.
In addition to employee status, only nonexempt workers are protected under the FLSA. As the name suggests, nonexempt workers are those whose jobs do not fit into one of the exempt employee categories. There are four general classes of exempt workers:
- Outside sales.
Anyone whose job fits into one of these exemption categories is not entitled to federal or Ohio overtime regulations.
Description of Exempt Categories
If a job falls into one of these four categories, the employee is said to be "exempted" from federal overtime laws. Since Ohio piggy-backs on the FSLA, these same categories of employees are exempted as well from Ohio overtime. It is important to understand what each category comprises.
- Executive: Those holding salaried positions are in executive positions if they are in management and have at least two other employees working under them. They cannot spend more than 20 percent of their work time doing other work tasks, or 40 percent if they are in retail.
- Administrative: White-color workers who facilitate business operations, develop management policies or lead administrative training are exempted as administrative workers. They have the same work-time ratios as executives, spending no more than 20/40 percent of their work time on other matters.
- Professional: These workers have advanced knowledge, education and training. Those who work as artists, certified teachers and computer professionals are professional workers, for example. Their job duties are primarily intellectual and include using their own discretion and judgment in pursuing assignments. The same 20/40 ratios apply.
- Outside sales: Workers whose job is making sales or taking orders outside of their employer's main workplace are outside sales persons. They must spend at least 80 percent of the time doing sales work to fall under this classification.
Shift Length and Break Requirements
Neither the Federal Labor Standards Act nor Ohio labor laws set a maximum shift length for most jobs. Likewise, neither mandate breaks between shifts nor breaks during shifts for most industries. These are considered to be matters best left to the employment contract between employer and employee. If the employee does not wish to work a long shift, they can decline to take the job.
Work shifts are limited however for some types of employment for safety reasons. That is, certain federal laws restrict the number of hours employees in certain industries and positions can work in a shift, in a day and in a workweek. For example, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration maintains these restrictions for truck drivers that apply to drivers in all states.
These federal shift requirements for truck drivers do include a mandatory 10-hour period before a shift, and drivers cannot drive more than 11 hours per day.
No Mandated Break Times for Ohio Employees
As described above, Ohio’s labor laws largely rely on federal labor law that sets a mandatory minimum of protection in every state. Ohio has chosen not to increase those protections for Ohio workers in most areas.
This means that Ohio employers must look to the FLSA for protections. Protections that are not in the federal law are not likely to apply in Ohio. This includes the lack of requirements for rest or meal breaks for adult employees. The FLSA does not mandate these breaks, and Ohio has opted not to increase break protections.
Federal Laws on Rest Breaks
The FLSA does address how breaks must be compensated, if they are offered. Under federal law, breaks that are under 30 minutes long have are "on the clock" and must be compensated. Longer lunch breaks do not have to be paid time, but in order for a rest or meal period to be considered a break under the FLSA, the employee must be free from all work-related responsibilities during that time.
When an employee is required or pressured to work through an unpaid break, the employer is violating the FLSA. The employee can demand their right to free time or take legal action. They can report their employer by making a wage and hour claim with their Ohio worker protection boards, as well as with the U.S. Department of Labor.
Ohio Labor Laws for Minors
Ohio labor laws for minors’ breaks are different from laws for adult workers’ breaks. It is not unusual for states to impose break requirements for workers under 18 even when they do not mandate such breaks for adults.
Under Ohio state law, workers under 18 years old are entitled to a 30-minute meal break for every five hours worked. These are unpaid breaks and, during this break time, the young workers must be completely free from work responsibilities.
In fact, if an employer grants adult workers break periods like these as unpaid time, the adult workers cannot be assigned work responsibilities during the break time. The worker must be free to go off-premises if they want to and cannot be on call.
At-Will Employment in Ohio
Since Ohio is an at-will employment state, employers have the right to terminate workers without notice and without "good cause," unless the employment contract provides otherwise. For example, an employer can mandate that a employee work every day during the week in Ohio as long as they pay overtime for hours over 40 per week. And if a worker refuses to do so, the employer may fire them.
However, some types of termination may violate the employees’ right to have a workplace free from discrimination. Federal law protects employees from discrimination based on race, gender, religious background, ethnic background, as well as certain other factors.
That means that workers of one race or gender cannot be granted more favorable work schedules or longer breaks than other employees of other backgrounds. If that seems to be the case, the employee may bring an action for damages, alleging that discrimination has occurred.
Protections for Workers
All employees have the right to unionize and collectively bargain for better working conditions. Disabled employees have additional protections, as do pregnant workers. Employees can file discrimination claims with state and federal authorities and, ultimately with the court. When an employee is fired for taking protected action, the firing may be deemed a wrongful termination.
Teo Spengler earned a JD from U.C. Berkeley Law School. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an MA and an MFA in English/writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.