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Working Conditions in the US
Federal vs. State Labor Laws
Generally speaking, working conditions in the US are subject to not that many legal regulations – at least if you are looking at laws applying to the entire country. On the federal level, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) covers most companies in the public as well as private employment sector, provided that they fulfill one of the following conditions:
- The employer in question is a hospital, school, or government agency, or its workers are involved in interstate commerce between two or more US states.
- The company has two or more employees, and it must have annual sales (or do business) of $500,000 or more.
The FLSA mainly regulates minimum wages, overtime pay, and child labor. State labor laws in your current place of residence may cover a wider range of working conditions or differ somewhat from FLSA requirements. Therefore, you might want to look into employment-related legislation on the state level as well. Contact the respective state labor office for further details.
Wages and Salaries
According to federal legislation, the minimum wage per hour is $7.25. If you work more than 40 hours per week in one and the same job, you have a right to overtime pay. This must be at least 150% of the federal minimum wage (i.e. currently about $10.88).
Subminimum wages are permitted for some younger workers, employees who regularly receive tips from customers, and some people with disabilities. Moreover, the Fair Labor Standards Act exempts certain employees in administrative, professional, and similar "white collar" positions.
Other kinds of pay than the minimum hourly wage are not mentioned in the FLSA at all. This includes, for example, commissions and bonuses, hazard pay for strenuous or dangerous work, or severance pay when you are let go. These are up to the individual employer and the specific contract they offer to you.
If you are an expat looking for a new job in the US, you may not be familiar with salary expectations for your field of work. In this case, start your research by looking at the job profiles in the Occupational Outlook Handbook or on My Next Move.
Both sites list the current median pay in your line of employment. My Next Move’s industry guide even allows you to find local salary information and compare different states or zip code areas. Thus, you’ll get a first idea of which salary range to mention during the interview process.
Working Hours and Paid Leave
While the Fair Labor Standards Act includes some regulations as to minimum pay, it defines neither full-time employment nor the standard work week. The Bureau of Labor Statistics assumes that a weekly schedule of 35 to 44 working hours (breaks not included) is normal. Again, much depends on your specific career and industry. Moreover, in middle management and executive positions, your actual work hours will probably deviate quite a lot from what your contract says, as US business culture is often fairly work-centric.
The US is also one of the few big players in the global economy which does not legally prescribe break time or minimum leave. Some state labor laws include requirements for official 30-minute to 60-minute lunch breaks, though, and unpaid breaks for nursing mothers always have to be provided.
However, no worker or employee has a statutory right to paid vacations. They have to be negotiated in individual job contracts, or they are regulated by company policy. The average annual vacation time in the US is estimated to be 16 days of paid leave per year, federal public holidays included.
How much time you get off from work is once more dependent on your new employer. There are plenty of companies who have far more generous policies with regard to annual leave. On the other hand, part-time employees, low-income workers, and people working for small businesses tend to have few paid vacations.
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