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What are Fair Labor Standards?

By Felicia Dye
Updated Feb 24, 2024
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Fair labor standards are government regulations that aim to prevent certain types of exploitation in relationships between employers and employees. Issues that may be addressed include wages, discrimination, and child labor. These regulations may be set at various levels of government, and when they are, there are often specific agencies appointed with the responsibility of administering and enforcing them. In the United States, for example, at the federal level, these rules are bundled into the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and are overseen by the US Department of Labor (DOL).

The US is a prime example of a jurisdiction where fair labor standards are created at various levels of government. The FLSA is commonly considered the minimum set of standards. This means that if and when state governments enact their own regulations, they may be stricter than those overseen by the DOL. It is not generally an option, however, for states or employers within a state to authorize actions that do not at least meet the federal standards.

Fair labor standards are enacted mainly to protect the employees in a working relationship. The existence of these laws can also be very beneficial for employers, however. By following guidelines outlined by government authorities, employers can substantially reduce the likelihood of finding themselves as parties in lawsuits and the object of protests.

Although there may be numerous regulations, these are normally enacted with specific goals in mind. For example, all fair labor standards that involve wages tend to exist to ensure that workers are fairly paid. For salaries and wages to be considered fair, issues such as the amounts paid, the promptness of payment, and deductions that may be made from earned income may need to be considered. Fair labor standards are also commonly put into place to protect certain vulnerable groups. For example, the manner in which child labor is used is an issue that is commonly addressed by these regulations.

Fair labor regulations may be subject to change. When wages are addressed by this type of legislation, for example, the standards may need to be revisited as the cost of living rises to ensure continuing fairness. It is also important to note that in many instances there are exemptions that apply to certain regulations.

Violations of fair labor standards are most commonly civil. They may be addressed with fines, damages to victims, and injunctions. There are some instances, however, when violations may be so gross that they are deemed criminal.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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Discussion Comments
By Ivan83 — On Mar 26, 2012

Imagine a world where there was no overtime, there was no federal minimum wage, they were children working in factories and there were no safety standards. You are basically imagining a world where there are no labor laws. We often don't think about labor laws but they are much more important than they are given credit for. Just picture a world without them

By backdraft — On Mar 26, 2012

We often take labor laws for granted but it was not all that long ago that they were not there and the plight of the American worker was severe.

I remember reading The Jungle by Upton Sinclair when I was in college and being shocked. That book is basically all about labor laws. It is one long agonizing and unflinching look at the way immigrants working in the meat packing industry were treated. The book was so resonant and successful that it actually contributed to a number of the labor laws that we have today.

By truman12 — On Mar 25, 2012

I am always shocked when people try to question minimum wage laws. The argument as they put it is that minimum wage laws hurt business because they interrupt the free market and distort the labor market. If businesses were free to pay whatever wage they saw fit then they could operate their businesses in a more organic way. Wages, they argue, would not drop drastically because the best workers would command a high wage.

Unfortunately, this is all a bunch of philosophizing that does a great job of distorting reality. This is basically an argument for slavery. Does anyone really think that McDonald's would pay there workers 7 buck an hour if they didn't have to? Of course they wouldn't. They would pay 3 bucks an hour and they would find some sad suckers who were willing to work for that. Without wage laws all you have is exploitation.

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