Nebraska appears to be on the verge of repealing part of last year’s successful ballot measure – to raise the state minimum wage from the federal rate of $7.25 per hour to $9 per hour by 2016 – by creating a lower youth minimum wage. I agree with arguments against a youth minimum wage stated by opponents such as state Sen. Adam Morfeld. But this attack on Nebraska’s wage and hour laws concerns me for other reasons.
Many young people work in home health or as salespeople. Federal-wage law exempts home health aides and so-called outside salespeople from minimum wage and overtime laws. Nebraska law has no such exemptions, so home health aides and salespeople are covered by Nebraska’s minimum-wage law, while they are not covered by federal law. If Nebraska legislators can roll back wage rates in our wage and hour laws, it is possible that they might also create more exceptions to our minimum-wage laws.
Besides minimum-wage concerns, young people, especially students, may be working in unpaid internships that violate both state and federal minimum-wage laws. I recommend students (and employers of interns) read an excellent blog post by the U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division about when interns should be paid. Students (and their employers) should also remember that unpaid internships may violate Nebraska wage and hour laws as well.
Though the Nebraska Wage and Hour Act does not allow punitive damages like the Fair Labor Standards Act, Nebraska law does allow for attorney fees and has a criminal penalty for wage violations not found in federal law. This criminal penalty can force quick settlements from employers if the liability for unpaid wages is clear. If an employee can clearly show they are owed an amount of wages, the employer may be forced to pay a penalty under the Nebraska Wage Payment and Collection Act. This penalty is also an incentive for employers to settle wage claims when liability for unpaid wages is clear.