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Fair Labor Standards Act

This page provides a general overview for Washington local governments on the requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act, including links to reference guides, statutes, and court decisions.  


The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is the federal law which sets minimum wage, overtime pay, equal pay, record keeping and child labor standards for employers who are covered by the Act. The federal statutes are codified in 29 U.S.C. Ch. 8 and the administrative regulations are set in Title 29 C.F.R..

It applies to full-time and part-time private and public sector employees, although some specific employees of cities and towns still may be exempt from some of the provisions of the Act.

Overtime Pay

The U.S. Department of Labor published the Final Rule extending the overtime protection rules of the FLSA. The new rules were to go into effect December 1, 2016. However, a federal district court has issued a nationwide preliminary injunction against implementation of the rules.  Implementation, if it happens at all, must await further hearings and action by the court.

The FLSA does not attempt to limit the number of hours that an employee can be required to work, either daily or weekly. It simply requires that overtime pay must be paid at a rate of not less than one and one-half times the nonexempt employees regular rate of pay for each hour worked in excess of the maximum number of hours applicable to the type of employment in which the employee is engaged. This usually means overtime pay for work in excess of 40 hours per week, but not always, since some employees, such as police and fire, may have a different limit, while in some cases compensatory time may be granted instead of overtime pay.

Some employees, such as those working in professional, administrative or executive positions may be exempt entirely for purposes of the FLSA's overtime requirements. See current rules in 29 C.F.R. § 541.

For more information on overtime pay, see Overtime 101.

Minimum Wage

It is important to remember that cities in Washington State must also comply with the state Minimum Wage Act, which is codified in chapter 49.46 RCW and its administrative regulations set in chapter 296-128 WAC.

Many of the provisions of the state law and the federal FLSA are identical but there are some differences. When there is a difference, the city must comply with the most liberal law when viewed from the perspective of the employee:

For more information on minimum wage issues including further guidelines and examples, see Minimum Wage.

Court Decisions

The following are court decisions and other materials to help in the understanding of the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Act's application to municipal employees.

Christensen v. Harris County, 68 U.S.L.W. 4343 (2000) – Compensatory Time Requirements
The Supreme Court, in a decision issued May 1, 2000, determined that a public employer may require its employees to use their accumulated compensatory time, allowing the employer to avoid the potential adverse fiscal consequences of large leave balances. In reaching its decision, the court, in Christensen v. Harris County, rejected the argument raised by employees that a forced use was only possible if agreed to by the parties.

29 U.S.C. § 207(o)(5) requires employers to allow the usage of compensatory time "within a reasonable period after making the request," provided the employer's operations are not unduly disrupted. The court reasoned that this language was a restriction on the employer's ability to limit the use of the time, not a limit on the employer's ability to require employees to take the time off. In reaching its 6-3 decision, the court noted that, under the Fair Labor Standards Act, an employer can reduce the number of hours an employee works and may also "cash out" compensatory leave balances through payment. Harris County's policy of requiring the use of the leave balances, the court concluded, merely did both allowable steps at once.

Garcia v. San Antonio Metropolitan Transit Authority, 469 U.S. 528 (1985)  – Compliance with Minimum Wage and Overtime Rules
This is the decision which basically held that state and local governments must fully comply with the FLSA's minimum wage and overtime rules.

Washington State Department of Labor and Industries v. Common Carriers, Inc., 111 Wn.2d 586 (1988)  – Employer Requirements
The Washington State Supreme Court held that employers would be required to comply with whichever law, state or federal, is more liberal when viewed from the employee's perspective.

Abshire v. County of Kern, 908 F.2d 483 (9th Circuit, 1990) – Exempt Status of Public Employees
A case in which the exempt status of public employees was challenged if the employer docked for absences of less than a day, such as medical appointments. In response to this case, a new federal regulation was adopted in 1992, the public employer proviso, in 29 C.F.R. § 541.5d, to retain the exempt status of public employees even if the employer docks for time off for less than full-day absences.

Recommended Resources

MRSC Resources

Other Legal Documents

Last Modified: December 15, 2016