Wages and Benefits Overview

Wed Apr 1, 2009 2:29pm EDT

Wages and job benefits are two of the most important employment-related concerns for many employers and their workers. Federal and state laws concerning wages and fair pay have evolved over the years, and the rules governing employee benefit plans can be fairly difficult to understand, so below is an overview of this key area of employment law.

Wages

Federal and state laws set out in detail the minimum wage every worker is entitled to receive. These laws also identify which workers are entitled to receive overtime pay for working longer hours. Unfortunately (and usually unintentionally) some employers fail to comply with these legal requirements. Common violations of the law related to employment wages include:

* Not paying the correct minimum wage.

* Paying the lower "training wage" or "youth minimum wage" to workers who should be paid more.

* Not paying overtime.

* Making employees work "off-the-clock," and not paying them for it.

* Deducting too much for tips.

* Deducting for wages paid in goods, such as meals or food.

The wage and hour laws are meant to protect employees, and to ensure that their employers treat them with fairness in terms of payment for work done.

Benefits

The term "benefits" is a broad one. It covers anything an employee receives other than cash wages. Some benefits -- such as family and medical leave -- are required under federal or state law. These benefits generally do not cost an employer anything, except in terms of the employee's time away from work. If you are an employer with workers who are covered by a law that requires certain job benefits, such as leave time for certain purposes, you must allow your employees to take advantage of those benefits at no penalty to them.

Unlike things such as family and medical leave, some benefits are optional and are a matter for employers and their employees to negotiate. These benefits include medical, disability, or dental insurance, life insurance, or employee pension plans. Although these benefits are optional, in that the employer is not required by law to provide them, an employer who does choose to provide them must follow certain federal regulations that can be extremely complex and technical. Most health benefit and pension plans are regulated under a federal law called the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). Among other things, ERISA regulations require that employees receive notice of the terms of any employee benefit plan -- what it is, who is eligible, what the plan covers, what the plan costs, how payments are made, and how and when changes to the plan will be made.

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