New Legislative Session Brings Talk of a $15 Minimum Wage in Georgia

The Georgia legislature began its 2015-2016 regular session on January 12, and a controversial minimum wage bill could be up for debate in the house. House Bill 8, sponsored by Reps. Tyrone Brooks and Dewey McClain, seeks to increase the Georgia minimum wage to $15 an hour for most nonexempt employees.

The current Georgia minimum wage is $5.15 an hour, which is lower than the federal minimum wage of $7.25. Employers covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), a federal law, must pay the $7.25 wage. Most employers not subject to the FLSA — usually smaller entities with fewer employees — must pay the $5.15 Georgia wage. The smallest of employers may be exempt from all minimum wage laws.

The proposed legislation, if it is passed into law, also would broaden the number of employees exempted from Georgia’s minimum wage. Currently, domestic workers, farm workers, and employees who depend on tips are exempt from the law, meaning that they do not have to be paid the minimum wage. The proposed legislation would change that: Employers of domestic and farm workers would be obligated to pay the new minimum wage. For waiters and other employees who are paid gratuities the new legislation would allow tips to constitute up to 50 percent of their new $15 minimum wage.

Although this bill will hotly debated, many employees who are entitled to the current minimum wage may not be aware of their rights. Most employees are entitled to receive the federal minimum wage, although there are some exceptions. Generally, if you are entitled to overtime pay, you are entitled to earn the minimum wage. But some employees, such as professionals (including teachers), executives, and others, are exempted from the FLSA standards.

Keep in mind that some employees who may not be eligible for the federal minimum wage may qualify to earn Georgia’s current minimum wage.

Employees that are not exempt from either the federal or Georgia minimum wage and that have not been paid those wages have a right to seek them. The FLSA allows these employees to sue their employers for the difference between the wages paid to them and the wages they should have earned. In addition, prevailing employees can recover liquidated damages, costs, and attorney fees. A misunderstanding of the law is not an excuse for employers that fail to comply with the federal or state minimum wage requirements.

It is always a good idea to know your state’s minimum wage so that you understand your rights as an employee or your obligations as an employer. If you are unsure whether you are being paid the wages to which you are entitled, Parks, Chesin & Walbert can help. Our firm represents both employees and employers, so we know Georgia and Tennessee employment law inside and out. To schedule some time with one of our experienced employment law lawyers, call 404-873-8048.

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