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Minimum Wage, Fair Wage, No Wage: What Are You Legally Entitled To?

2013 was the year, amongst other things, of worker unrest. Workers in all parts of the country, in all different parts of the economy, and in completely unrelated industries spoke out regarding the subject of wages. All stated that they were not being paid what they should be--some were not being paid at all and felt exploited by the "internship"----and went on strike, sued, demonstrated, and had their legislators introduce legislation to correct what they saw as a social injustice.

Take for example the former intern at Harper's Bazaar, who is suing the magazine's publisher, Hearst Corporation. She alleges that her internship violated labor laws because she typically worked 40-55 hour workweeks and was not paid. The lawsuit goes on to state that "unpaid interns are becoming the modern-day equivalent of entry-level employees, except that employers are not paying them for the many hours they work...Employers' failure to compensate interns for their work and the prevalence of the practice nationwide curtails opportunities for employment, fosters class divisions between those who can afford to work for no wage and those who cannot, and indirectly contributes to rising unemployment."

Xuedan Wang, the plaintiff in the lawsuit, realizes that she may have ended her career in the fashion industry by filing the lawsuit and taking such a public stand against a widely used--and depended upon--practice in the fashion industry. But she hopes that her lawsuit will stop what she sees as exploitation of young people wanting to get into the business and have no choice but to accept the employers' unfair (and possibly illegal) terms.

Consider next the case of the Indian diplomat, Devyani Khobragade, who was arrested in December 2013 for Visa fraud. The diplomat employed an Indian housekeeper/nanny, and was required to show on the nanny's Visa that she received a fair wage, in U.S. employment terms. What the diplomat stated her nanny received in wages per month and what the nanny actually received were very different, and the nanny/housekeeper was required to work far in excess of the 40 hours a week a stated. The false statements by Khobragade constituted Visa fraud and making a false declaration. If convicted, she faces a maximum of 10 years for the fraud charge and 5 years for the false declaration charge.

The important thing to note in what turned into a huge international incident between India and the United States is that the United States requires proof that the personal employees of diplomats and consular officers receive what the U.S. considers a fair wage. People can argue about whether the housekeeper/nanny was being paid what her Indian counterparts normally receive, but that is irrelevant; the law is clear that while working in the U.S., they must be paid a fair wage according to U.S. standards.

What is a fair wage? The answer to that question was hotly debated in 2013. Thousands of fast-food workers fast-food workers all over the country went on strike, demanding that the minimum wage be raised to $15/hour. The current federal minimum wage is $7.25/hour, which means an annual income of approximately $15,00/year for full-time work. In real terms, it is the same rate as when Harry Truman was in office. Additionally, fast-food workers are not the only workers demonstrating for a higher minimum wage. Wal-Mart employees around the country have demanded an increase in their average pay to $12/hour.

What are your rights as a full-time employee? The Department of Labor enforces the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which sets the minimum wage, currently $7.25/hour, and overtime pay standards, for all employees covered by the FLSA. But as the above discussion as shown, many employers ignore the FLSA and pay less than the minimum wage, or pay nothing at all by creating "internships" advertised as learning experiences and a foot in the door of a competitive career, but are in reality free labor for employers exploiting a crowded job market.

If you have any questions regarding what your rights are with respect to wages as a full-time or part-time employee, contact your Atlanta personal injury lawyer at the Thomas Law Firm for a free consultation. We will make sure that you are pointed in the right direction.

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