Q: We received a court order to garnish the wages of an employee who didn’t pay her bills. We don’t think it’s right that we have to go through the trouble of collecting money for someone else. Can we charge the employee for the administrative time we spend on this? What happens if we don’t process it?

A: You cannot charge the employee for your administrative time. As for the second question, if you don’t process the garnishment on time or if you fail to calculate the garnishment amount properly, your organization may be held responsible for the debt just as your employee is. 

Q: We’re giving our employees a holiday bonus. If an employee works overtime that week, does the bonus have to be figured into his or her hourly base rate for purposes of calculating overtime?

A: Probably not, depending on why you’re giving the bonus. Under Connecticut law, the “regular rate” at which an employee is employed, for purposes of overtime calculations, does not include payments such as gifts made at Christmas time or on other special occasions or as a reward for service, provided the amounts are not measured by or dependent upon the number of hours worked, production or efficiency. If the holiday bonus is not related to effort or output, then it need not be figured as part of the base rate.

Q: What is Connecticut’s minimum wage? Is it going up again any time soon?

A: Connecticut's minimum wage will rise from $10.10 per hour to $11 on October 1, 2019, followed by the following increases:

  • September 1, 2020: $12
  • August 1, 2021: $13
  • July 1, 2022: $14
  • June 1, 2023: $15

Any increases after Jan. 1, 2024 will be tied to the employment cost index, a quarterly metric created by the U.S. Bureau of Labor that details changes in labor costs across the country.

For minors working in agriculture or government, it is $10.10 of minimum wage, and for minors working in other industries, it is the greater of 85% of the minimum wage or $10.10 for the first 90 days.

Connecticut's minimum wage for service employees is $9.15 per hour with a gratuity allowance of 36.8% of the minimum wage for waitpersons and $9.15 per hour with a gratuity allowance of 18.5% of the minimum wage for bartenders. The base wage remains at $5.78 per hour and $7.46 for bartenders.

Q: I manage a supermarket and have had a hard time finding employees for weekend shifts. Can I employ 15-year-olds?

A: Fifteen-year-olds may work as baggers, cashiers or stock clerks on any Saturday during the year for retail food stores only. (Other mercantile establishments may employ 15-year-olds as baggers, cashiers or stock clerks during school vacation periods when school is not in session for at least five consecutive days.)

A 15-year-old cannot work more than 40 hours in any week nor more than eight hours in any day, and cannot work before 7 am or after 7 p. (9 p. in July and August).

You also must obtain working papers stating the minor is at least 15 years old.

Q: We have an employee who took a week of unpaid vacation. A company holiday fell during that week, and the employee wants to be paid for the holiday. Are we required to pay him?

A: As a general rule, holiday observance and pay issues are a matter of employer custom. There is no legal requirement that employers observe holidays or pay employees for observed holidays, although most employers do. Many employers require employees to work the day before or the day after a holiday to be eligible for holiday pay.

If you have a written policy that promises holiday pay during a vacation week or have followed a practice to that effect in the past, then of course the employee is entitled to the paid day.

If your written policy does not address eligibility for holiday pay or the issue has never come up before, it still might be safest to pay the employee for the day. Be sure to go back and rewrite your policy to cover future holiday pay situations.

If you don’t have a written policy, now would be a good time to put one together.

Q: We’ve decided to shut down for two weeks this summer. Can we require employees to use their vacation time? What if they’ve already made vacation plans for another time?

A: Employers have a right to mandate a change in the work schedule, including a shutdown. If the shutdown is a change in how you normally operate, it should be communicated to employees in writing with adequate notice, at least 30 days, if possible.

The next issue concerns employee pay during the shutdown. You can require them to use vacation days to cover the shutdown, but expect some resistance from employees who have already scheduled their vacations. Be as supportive as possible of these employees and do not insist that they change their plans.

Let your employees know that they are eligible to file for unemployment during the shutdown if they have no vacation days available.

Q: Am I required by law to give my employees lunch and rest periods? If so, do I have to pay them for such breaks?

A: The federal Fair Labor Standards Act does not require employers to provide meal periods and rest breaks. However, Connecticut law requires that employees who work for 7 ½ consecutive hours be given a one-half hour meal period some time between the first two hours and the last two hours of work. There is no Connecticut requirement for coffee breaks, but many employers allow short rest periods, running from five to 20 minutes, because they promote employee efficiency.

Ordinarily meal periods may be unpaid, as long as the employee is relieved from duty and is not required to perform work during that period. Short rest breaks are considered “hours worked” under the FLSA, and employees must be paid for that time.

Q: We let employees borrow against their vacation time. That is, we let them take more paid days off than they have accrued. If an employee quits before earning enough time to cover the advance, can we deduct those days from the employee’s final paycheck?

A: Yes, but only if the employee has authorized the deduction on a form approved previously by the state labor commissioner. In order to obtain approval, send a copy of the form and a short letter describing the nature of the deduction to: Wage and Workplace Standards, Connecticut Department of Labor, 200 Folly Brook Blvd., Wethersfield, CT 06109.

It’s probably simplest if you have an employee sign the authorization at the time he or she requests the borrowed time.

Q: We know we have to pay overtime to non-exempt workers for every hour worked over 40 hours in a workweek, but is sick time or vacation included in that calculation?

A: Connecticut and federal laws require employers to pay overtime only for hours actually worked in excess of 40 in a given workweek. This means that unworked time such as vacation, sick time and holidays do not count when calculating overtime. Many employers do choose to count certain categories of unworked time (such as holidays) as hours worked for purposes of calculating overtime, but the law does not require it.

Q: Some of our exempt salaried employees have been putting in a lot of weekend hours to finish up a special project. Do other employers pay overtime in this situation? Are there dangers in doing so?

A: According to a recent CBIA survey, about 20% of the responding employers pay overtime to exempt personnel. Most of these respondents compensate the extra hours at straight time, rather than at time and one-half. If you decide to reward your exempts for their extra efforts, consider paying them a lump-sum bonus. This should not affect the exempt status of the employees; calculating and paying the overtime premium on an hourly basis may jeopardize the status.

Q: We had an emergency situation and ended up calling back to work some hourly employees who had already finished their shift that day. What should we pay them?

A: As a general rule, hourly employees are paid for the hours they actually work. There is no federal or state requirement that employees be guaranteed any minimum number of hours of “call back” pay, except in the restaurant and mercantile industries. Restaurant employees who are called back to work or report to work because they weren’t given adequate notice not to report must be paid for a minimum of two hours at their regular rate. Employees in the retail or mercantile trades must be paid for four hours.

In a recent CBIA survey on personnel policies, about two-thirds of large employers who responded reported that they guarantee four hours of call-back pay when employees are called back after completing their regular shifts. About one-quarter of small employers guarantee four hours of pay, while nearly 60% of small employers pay only for the hours actually worked.

Q: One of our hourly employees who works 35 hours per week at one job will be working extra hours for us at a second, different job at a different pay rate. Does he get overtime on the second job once he’s worked over 40 hours for the week? And if so, how do we calculate it?

A: Nonexempt employees must be paid overtime (time and a half) for all hours over 40 in one week, even if the hours come from two different jobs with the same employer and the jobs are at different pay rates. Here’s how it’s done:

Let’s say the rate of pay for the first job is $15 per hour and the rate for the second job is $10.50 per hour. In one week the employee works 35 hours at the first job and then comes in on the weekend and works 10 hours at the second job, for a total of 45 hours. He has earned $525 (35 X $15) on the first job plus $105 (10 x $10.50) on the second job for a straight-time total of $630.

But he’s still due the extra “half” time for the hours over 40. Divide the total straight-time pay by the total hours worked to get an average hourly rate of $14 ($630 divided by 45 = $14). The half-time rate is half of that ($14 divided by 2 = $7). So the employee gets an additional $7 per hour for the five hours he worked over 40, which comes to $35. Add the $35 to the $630 to get the employee’s gross pay for the week: $665.

Q: Some of our employees carry beepers and cell phones so they can be contacted if we need them to return to work. Is this on-call time considered to be hours worked?

A: On-call workers generally have to be paid for on-call time if they cannot effectively use the time for their own personal purposes. For example, if employees have to remain within a restricted geographic area or if they have to report back to work within a short period of time after being paged, then the time most likely is paid work time. However, even if an employee is free to use the on-call time for personal purposes, once the employee is notified to return, he or she must be paid from the time of notification to the end of the work assignment.

Q: We are a private sector company. We sometimes ask employees if they’re interested in doing volunteer work for various charitable organizations in the community. It’s a service to the community and it’s good publicity for us. Do we have to pay these employees for their volunteer time?

A: Not if the activities are truly voluntary, without any direct or implied pressure from you. As a general rule private-sector employees may not volunteer to do their own jobs or perform any productive work for their employer without pay.

But they may volunteer services for charitable, religious or other community organizations, or for the public sector – for example, as a volunteer firefighter in towns that have volunteer fire departments. Be sure to make it clear to your employees that they are free to participate in the volunteer activities or not, and put your policy in writing.

Q: Our company premises are entirely smoke-free. We have a number of smokers who have asked if they can go off premises to have a cigarette during the morning and afternoon break periods. As a way of discouraging smoking, can we give the nonsmokers paid breaks but give unpaid breaks to those who go off premises to smoke?

A: Probably not. The U.S. Department of Labor takes the position that under the Fair Labor Standards Act, any break of 20 minutes or less is paid time. In addition, Connecticut law says employers may not discriminate in hiring, compensation or conditions of employment against those who use lawful tobacco products outside the course of employment. Giving unpaid breaks to smokers and paid breaks to nonsmokers might run afoul of this law.

There is no requirement, beyond the required lunch break, that employers offer shorter “coffee” or rest breaks to employees. But doing away with the breaks for everyone would obviously bring on an employee relations problem.

A better course of action, and the way many employers handle this situation, is to find a place where smokers can smoke during breaks, probably outdoors, that is away from nonsmokers and the general public, if that’s a concern. You might also try offering a stop-smoking program.

Q: I know I have to pay overtime for my non-exempt employees at one and one-half times their regular rate for any hours worked over 40 in the workweek. What is the “regular rate”? Does it include such things as shift differentials and production bonuses?

A: The “regular rate” at which an employee is employed, for purposes of calculating overtime, is broadly defined. It includes all monies for employment paid to or on behalf of the employee, with a few exceptions. Sums paid as gifts (for example, holiday bonuses) or as a reward for service need not be counted as part of the regular rate, provided that the amounts are not measured by or dependent upon hours worked, production or efficiency.

Other exceptions from the regular rate include vacation, holiday or sick pay; travel and business expenses; purely discretionary bonuses; and contributions to bona fide profit sharing, thrift, savings, retirement, life, accident, health insurance or similar employee benefit plans.

Also exempted from the regular rate is any extra compensation provided at a premium rate for certain hours worked by the employee beyond his or her regular workday or for hours worked on a weekend or holiday, as long as the premium rate is at least one and one-half times the employee’s usual rate.

Because shift differentials and production bonuses are not discretionary gifts, but are tied to the employee’s hours worked or production, they do not fall within any of the exceptions and should be counted as part of the employee’s regular rate for calculating overtime.

Q: We provide paid vacation and holiday benefits for our employees. I understand that I have to include shift differentials and production bonuses when calculating the “regular rate” for overtime. But do I have to include them when calculating the employee’s average rate for holiday and vacation pay?

A: No. Employers are not legally obligated to provide paid holidays or vacation time, and employers generally can establish their own policies concerning compensation for such time. Be sure, however, that it is clear to employees that shift differentials and production bonuses will not be included in calculating vacation and holiday pay. If your policy simply says that holidays or vacation will be paid at the employee’s regular or average rate, they might expect that it will include the shift differentials and bonuses.

Q: I know that if I fire an employee, I have to pay the employee’s final wages by the next business day. Can I mail the final paycheck, or does it have to be hand delivered to the employee?  And is direct deposit OK?

A: The key is that the employee must receive his or her final wages by the next business day following the termination.  Sending the paycheck by regular mail is not acceptable, because it’s unlikely that the employee will receive it by the next day.  You could, however, use an overnight mail service.  You could also have the paycheck direct deposited to the employee’s account (provided that the employee has previously authorized direct deposit), as long as the funds are available to the employee within the required time frame.

Q: A few of our employees are volunteer firefighters for the town. If they receive a call during working hours, are we required to let them go? Do we have to pay them for the time they are gone?

A: You’ll need to check whether your town has an ordinance that requires it. Connecticut law allows municipalities to pass ordinances requiring employers with 10 or more employees at one location within the town to allow any active member of a volunteer fire company or any emergency medical technician to leave work (without loss of pay, vacation time, sick leave or earned overtime accumulation) to respond to an emergency to which the town’s fire company or EMS is responding.

Note that the employee must be registered with the volunteer fire department or EMS of the town in which the employer is located in order to be covered. Your town clerk, town attorney or fire department could advise you as to whether your town has such an ordinance, as well as any conditions or regulations that may apply.

Even if your town does not have an ordinance requiring leave, it is a good community service to allow employees to respond to emergency calls if practicable. After all, you never know when you might need firefighters or EMTs to respond to a call at your facility.

Q: Our company is experiencing a slowdown. As an alternative to layoffs, we would like to reduce our employees’ workweek from five days to four and to decrease their pay accordingly. We know we can do this for non-exempt workers, but what about salaried exempt employees?

A: Although wage and hour regulations prohibit “docking” the pay of exempt employees who have worked any part of a workweek, an employer may change the company’s workweek (and presumably, the workload) and reduce employees’ pay to reflect that change. Of course, if your company is unionized, such a change would probably have to be negotiated with the union.

Q: What should I do about an exempt salaried employee who is out too much? He says that because he’s on salary, we can’t criticize his attendance or tell him when he is supposed to work. Is that true?

A: No, your employee is mistaken. Exempt status does not mean that an employee has no obligation with respect to hours of work.

An exempt employee may be told to observe the regular hours of work, maintain reliable attendance and perform the work assigned.

If the exempt employee does not comply, you may warn the employee, make the employee non-exempt (this means providing overtime pay after 40 hours), or treat the employee as you would any other employee under similar circumstances.

Further, Connecticut wage and hour law was amended in July 2001 to allow employers to make deductions from the pay of exempt employees for absences of one or more full days due to sickness or disability, provided that such deductions are made pursuant to a bona fide practice or policy that has been disclosed to the employee.