On March 14, 2019, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) issued Opinion Letter FLSA2019-1. In this situation, an employer asked whether the FLSA applies when its employees (live-in superintendents and residential janitors) are exempt from state law overtime. The DOL confirmed what I’ve posted about several times:

When a federal, state, or local minimum wage or overtime law differs from the FLSA, the employer must comply with both laws and meet the standard of whichever law gives the employee the greatest protection.

Thus, just because an employer does not need to pay overtime under state law, it may need to under federal law, and vice versa. In Minnesota, this is where employers often get confused regarding whether they must pay overtime after 40 or 48 hours. The DOL Wage and Hour Division (WHD) also opined that not knowing which law applies, does not excuse an employer from a willful violation in its opinion (though acknowledging it is up to the courts on a case-by-case basis):

WHD does not believe that relying on a state law exemption from state law minimum wage and overtime requirements is a good faith defense to noncompliance with the FLSA, but a court retains discretion to make that determination of a case-by-case basis.  See 29 U.S.C. 260.

What does that mean exactly? Well, typically, there is a 2 year statute of limitations on wage claims. However, if an employer “willfully” violates the FLSA, the employee may go back 3 years for compensation. In short, be sure you are familiar with both Minnesota (state and local ordinances) and federal law (FLSA) with regards to overtime and minimum wage.