Minimum wage laws are passed by Congress but how are they carried out? Everyone could have a different interpretation of the law and not every clause of the law is distributed to every individual. Congress is too busy to outline the implementation of every single law they pass so how does it get from Congress to us “little people”? The bureaucrats, of course! Not everyone loves bureaucracy or their red tape but they do actually serve a purpose.
All laws pertaining to workers, employers, and anything else workplace related are interpreted, implemented and enforced by the Department of Labor (DOL). They deal with over 180 federal laws that deal with workplace activity. They regulate Worker’s Compensation dealing with injuries on the job and employee benefit security such as COBRA insurance and HIPPA regarding medical concerns. They place regulations on unions and their members, and protect employment for our military personnel when our troops are deployed. They place procedures and limitations for wage garnishment and distribute guidelines to allow parents to be home with their new child with the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
Of course, the Department of Labor is so large, it has to divide up its workforce into a hierarchy in order to deal with all these aspects, and they can be so different from each other that is requires specialized expertise on each subject. So the Department of Labor is divided into agencies or sub-departments if you will. OSHA is one example, which oversees workplace safety and health. The agency that oversees wages and hours, including the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) dealing with minimum wage is the Wage and Hour Division (WHD).
The WHD oversees minimum wage, overtime pay, recordkeeping, child labor, and the FMLA. They have offices in every state to aid in the enforcing of laws. Iowa’s happens to be in the state capital of Des Moines, while Utah’s office is in Salt Lake City. There are some states, due to their population and size, which require multiple office. Texas, for example, has two offices in Houston, as well as one in Arlington, McAllen, Corpus Christi, San Antonio, and Austin. They also have one located in Albuquerque, NM, for the West Texas Panhandle and Northwest Quadrant of the state.
The DOL and WHD websites are full of information on the laws they regulate, how they interpreted the laws, and the history of the laws in effect. In regards to minimum wage, I found a list of exemptions to the law, which I found pretty interesting. Some I knew and others I did not.
Farmworkers, for example, are exempt from minimum wage and overtime laws. In my area, most agriculture employees are paid more than minimum wage but not many actually get overtime pay. Tipped workers, such as waitresses, are only required to be paid $2.13 as long as their tips put them up to minimum wage. Most states actually have their tipped minimum wage higher than the federal minimum, and eight states actually require tipped workers to be paid the full federal minimum wage before tips.
Another example, (one I wasn’t aware of), comes in terms of specialized skills. Computer programmers, software engineers and other highly skilled computer professionals (as long as they meet certain duty requirements as their primary duty) are entitled to a special minimum wage of $27.63 per hour unless salaried. Building or repairing computers does not fall into this category, but there are plenty of opportunities that do.
Carrying out Congress’s laws is a daunting undertaking, and someone has to do it. Bureaucracies have their place, even with all the “red tape” they produce, and laws wouldn’t be easily enforced otherwise. Try and keep that in mind the next time you are on hold and transferred multiple times trying to get you to the “correct” person to talk to. It’s not necessarily to cause you distress, it’s because each person you talk to has a detailed and exact job description and if what you need help with doesn’t fit, they can’t help you. Just try and remember that they are getting you to the “expert” able to handle your issue.