Many aspects of North Carolina’s employment laws give employers the upper hand. Since North Carolina is an at-will employment state, employers can terminate your job at any time, and they are not required to give you severance pay. With some jobs, you do not even get an employment contract guaranteeing you an income for a certain number of pay periods. The law does not require any kind of paid leave; the only legally mandated family and medical leave laws require you to provide unpaid leave. The law does, however, require employers to give you fair pay for your work; most workers are also entitled to overtime pay when they work more than 40 hours in a week. Employers still find many ways to shortchange employees and pay them less than they have earned. If you are involved in a dispute with your employer about payment for your work, contact the Charlotte employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP.
North Carolina Minimum Wage Laws
Employers in North Carolina must pay workers at least $7.25 per hour, which is the federally mandated minimum wage; your paycheck might reflect a lower amount, because the amount includes the income taxes that your employer withholds, as well as your take-home pay. (If a minimum wage job is your only source of income, you will almost certainly get an income tax refund at tax time.)
The law exempts North Carolina employers from paying the federal minimum wage to tipped employees, which North Carolina law defines as workers who earn at least $20 in tips per month. Examples of tipped employees are restaurant servers and bartenders. The minimum wage for tipped employees is $2.13 per month because the expectation is that the employee will earn an average of at least $5.12 per hour in tips, and therefore the employee’s total compensation will add up to at least $7.25 per hour. If an employer plans to pay a tipped employee less than the $7.25 per hour minimum wage, the employer must notify the employee upon hiring of the hourly rate that the employee will receive. Employers may require employees to participate in tip pools, but the employer must notify the employee at the beginning of each pay period that that employee’s tips will be pooled; the amount each employee receives from the tip pool must equal at least 85 percent of the amount the employee contributed.
In some cases, employers may be permitted to pay less than the $7.25 minimum wage to an employee with disabilities. If the employer wishes to do this, they must request permission from the North Carolina Wage and Hour Bureau.
Legally Mandated Meal Breaks and Rest Breaks
Employers are required to provide an unpaid break to employees during every shift the employee works, as long as the shift is at least five hours long. The break can be 10 minutes, 15 minutes, or 30 minutes long, depending on the length of the shift. If the employer provides additional breaks during the shift, any additional break time must be paid.
North Carolina Overtime Pay Laws
Most workers are eligible to receive overtime pay. The overtime pay laws require that, when an employee works more than 40 hours in a seven-day period, the employee receives 1.5 times their hourly rate of pay for each hour worked beyond the 40th hour. Under North Carolina law, employers are exempt from providing overtime pay to the following categories of workers:
- Executive employees
- Administrative employees
- Professional employees
- Outside salespeople
- Computer programmers, computer systems analysts, software engineers, and employees involved in similar types of computer work
- Agricultural workers
- Babysitters and domestic workers
- Incarcerated and institutionalized workers
- Actors and theater production workers
- Employees of summer camps and seasonal religious or educational conferences
- Workers who catch and process seafood
- Rideshare drivers
Disputes Over Unlawful Misclassification
The list of exceptions to the rule that all workers are entitled to receive at least the federal minimum wage for the first 40 hours worked per week and 1.5 times the minimum wage for each hour beyond the 40th is long enough, but loopholes in the law have created a catch-all category by which employers avoid providing fair pay to many workers not included in the categories listed above. Specifically, employers deny that the people who work for them as employees, and the IRS plays along with the charade. You may have heard of the gig economy as a system where everyone with enough ambition can earn a comfortable living, free from the strictures of the 9-to-5 workday and the cubicle farm, but the truth is a lot less rosy. If you get paid as an independent contractor (with a 1099 tax form), your taxes are much higher than if you get paid as an employee (with a W2 tax form). Even worse, employers are not required to provide health insurance benefits to 1099 workers, no matter how many hours they work.
The independent contractor arrangement makes sense in some occupations, such as rideshare drivers and freelance workers, since these workers often set their own schedules and get paid per task instead of per hour. Many workers who get paid as independent contractors are employees in all but name, however. Your employer may have intentionally misclassified you as an independent contractor, just so your employer could save money on taxes and insurance that they would have to pay if they hired you as a W2 employee. Unlawful misclassification is just one of the ways that employers deny workers their rights. If your employer has incorrectly classified you as an independent contractor, the Charlotte employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP can help.
Contact a North Carolina Employment Lawyer About Wage Disputes
An employment lawyer can help you if your employer has paid you less than what they promised to pay or less than what the law requires or has categorized you as an independent contractor when you really do the work of an employee. Contact the employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP in Charlotte, North Carolina to set up a consultation.