What is the Fair Labor Standards Act?

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  • Written By: Alexis W.
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The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 is a bill passed to protect workers from the types of abuses that were occurring in the Industrial Revolution. During this time, companies were paying workers a very small wage, and yet people, especially new immigrants, had no choice but to take the jobs in order to provide for their families. The Fair Labor Standards Act was passed to protect those workers and to ensure that the employers paid a fair and reasonable wage.

The original provisions set forth in the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 applied to any business that was engaged in or affected interstate commerce. The reason for this restriction was that it was a federal law that was passed, and federal legislatures do not have broad power to govern businesses. The federal government gets the power to pass such a law from the Interstate Commerce Clause in the U.S. Constitution, which vests it with the power to govern issues related to interstate commerce.

The 1938 act contained three main provisions. First, it set up rules to ensure that people were paid a living wage. Second, it mandated specific wage rules for overtime. Third, it created specific laws related to the employment of minors.


Under the living wage provisions of the bill, the Fair Labor Standards Act set a federal minimum wage that applied on a national level. Employers were required to pay every worker at least the minimum wage. The initial minimum wage set under the act was $0.40 US Dollars (USD) per hour.

The living wage provisions also guaranteed employees overtime, paid at time-and-a-half. This meant that if a worker worked more than 40 hours in a given week, he was paid time-and-a-half for those hours. So, if a worker was making $0.40 USD per hour, for each hour he worked over 40 hours a week, he was paid $0.60 USD.

The act also established rules for the employment of minors. The act set rules limiting the employment of minors in "oppressive child labor." This included setting restrictions on the number of hours a child could work and banning children from working in extremely hazardous or dangerous jobs.

Many amendments have occurred to the initial Fair Labor Standards Act since its passing in 1938. For example, in a 1949 amendment, the minimum wage was raised to $0.75 USD per hour. In 1963, the Equal Pay for Equal Work Act was passed, mandating that men and women be paid the same wage for the same work.

Other amendments passed over the years expanded the act to include more businesses and organizations and to provide broader protection for workers and minors. The minimum wage has also been raised numerous times, including a 2007 change to $7.25 USD. These laws are all designed to ensure that the worker is protected.


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