Georgia Labor Laws: Everything You Need to Know
Georgia Labor Laws
Understanding Georgia labor laws helps to run a smooth business for owners and employees alike.
Minimum Wage Amount
While the current federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, Georgia's minimum wage is set at just $5.15. However, employers must adhere to the federal minimum wage if they are required to comply with the federal Fair Labor Standards Act.
Additionally, if an employer's sales are less than $40,000 annually, has a domestic employee, has fewer than five employees, or is a farm owner, then the Georgia minimum wage does not apply. A lower minimum wage can also be approved by the Georgia Commissioner of Labor in order to companies to employ disabled people who otherwise may have trouble finding a job.
Because there are no Georgia labor laws specific to overtime payment, the federal laws apply. These laws dictate that when an employee works over 40 hours in a week, he or she must be paid time and half of their regular pay rate.
Some types of employees may be exempt when it comes to overtime laws, particularly in the case of police officers or firefighters who have departments of less than five employees. The exemption also applies to executives, professional employees, commission-based employees, administrators, interns, cab drivers, airline workers, in-home helpers, commercial fisherman, film workers, rail employees, and caretakers.
Meals and Breaks
Again, Georgia doesn't have specific labor laws pertaining to breaks or meals, so the federal rule is used instead. Under these laws, there is no requirement for meal periods or any other kind of break. If there is a break that lasts for less than 20 minutes, it should be paid by the employer. Breaks that are 30-minute meal periods or longer do not have to be paid if the employee can go where they want during that time.
An uninterrupted break of 30 minutes indicates that the employee shouldn't have to be interrupted by ongoing work responsibilities like answering phone calls. While not required, Georgia labor laws do encourage employers to allow nursing mothers to take unpaid breaks to express breast milk for the child. The employer should also attempt to offer a private location near the woman's work area where she can express her milk -- and not in a toilet stall.
Still, Georgia labor laws are written in what's called permissive language, saying things like "may" rather than "must." Consequently, there doesn't seem to be an obligation of employers that can be enforced. Still, nursing breaks can be aligned with other breaks the employee already receives.
Georgia labor laws do go into detail on codes for factory workers. Specifically, there is a 10 hour limit for each workday for cotton or wool manufacturing employees. They can exceed that daily limit in order to make up for lost hours, but the weekly limit is set at 60 hours.
There are no requirements for Georgia employers to offer paid or unpaid vacation benefits to their employees. However, if vacation time is offered, the company must comply with its own policies and individual contracts with employees. Additionally, there may be a policy or contract that prohibits paying employees for their accrued vacation time when they leave the company. Employers can also create a policy that prohibits employees from receiving their accrued vacation payment in the event their employment is terminated.
These rights can also be waived if the employee doesn't follow certain requirements when it comes time to separate from the company, such as giving proper notice or being employed long enough to qualify. But if a contract or policy does allow for an employee to receive their accrued vacation time as payment when leaving, and all the requirements are properly met, then the employee must receive the compensation.
If there is not contract or policy, there's no guidance from the Georgia legislature or the courts as to how the situation should be handled. Judging by the emphasis on contracts, an employer probably wouldn't be required to provide any accrued vacation, unless there's precedent within the company. In Georgia, the policy of "use it or lose it" is also acceptable if there is a rule that employees should take leave by a certain point or risk losing the accrued time.
Family and Medical Leave
For employers with 50 or more employees, they must adhere to the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). This law covers employees who are eligible to receive as much as 12 weeks of unpaid leave annually to be used in the event of sickness, caring for a family member, or bonding with their newborn baby or adopted child.
During FMLA leave, you should still receive health benefits from your employer. On top of that, when you return you should get your old job back, or a position that is similar. Georgia doesn't have any additional family or medical leave laws, so only the federal laws apply here.
There are two laws allowing employees to take leave in order to perform military service: the federal Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) and specific Georgia laws. In fact, Georgia employees can take off as much as six months every four years in order to attend training or a service school.
When returning from leave, the employee should be fully reinstated in his or her position and cannot be discriminated against in the workplace due to this service.
The FMLA also allows for up to 26 weeks off annually to help a family member who has been injured seriously while performing military duty.
Jury Duty Leave
An employee may not legally be penalized in any way in Georgia due to responding to any kind of judicial summons as part of jury duty or some kind of court order. Employers are also not legally allowed to threaten an employee in any way because of taking jury duty. Restrictions stop there, however, and there is no state law on whether employees must be paid during jury duty. The Attorney General did issue an opinion in 1998 stating that an employee can sue the company if they're not paid wages during jury duty. But this opinion hasn't been backed up in any court, despite counties providing this instruction to jurors.
As long as an employee gives reasonable notice to the employer, he or she must receive time off to vote. You can get as much as two hours off using PTO unless your scheduled time starts a minimum of two hours after the polls are opened or two hours before they close in the evening. The law doesn't, however, mandate payment for time spent voting. It's also acceptable for the employer to dictate the time an employee should go vote, in order to minimize any interruptions at the company.
There is no Georgia labor law surrounding bereavement leave or time off for employees to go to a funeral. Bereavement leave is defined as time off for an employee when a close family member passes away. If an employer creates its own bereavement leave policy, it is required to stick to that policy.
Holiday leave is not required of private employers in Georgia, regardless of whether it is paid or unpaid. Employees may be required to work on holidays if the employer in Georgia is private. The employer is also not obligated to provide any premium pay on holidays, like the typical time and a half. The only exception is if the holiday workday is counted as overtime. Again, any policy or employee contract by the company must be adhered to, even if it goes beyond Georgia labor laws.
There is no requirement for severance pay in the state of Georgia. But if there is a corporate policy or contract with an employee surrounding a severance package, then those agreements must be upheld by the employer.
Georgia places restrictions on the types of jobs, locations, and industries in which a minor from age 12 to 16 can work. Prior to employing such a minor, the company must get a work certificate from the child's superintendent or another authorized person. If there is any overlap in regulations between federal, state, or local law, the employer must comply with the strictest law that provides more benefit to the employee.
If an able-bodied employee loses their job and is not at fault for the separation, they are eligible to receive temporary unemployment compensation by Georgia law.
Contributions are taken from employers in order to facilitate the unemployment program, and are taken out of federal as well as state taxes. The amount depends on the experience rating of the specific employer.
If the company has a low amount of previous employees who have received unemployment compensation, then their experience rating with be correspondingly low. Unemployment compensation law goes into effect if the employer has met a minimum amount of wages in toward employees in any of the calendar quarters, or if they've had at least one employee in 20 varying calendar weeks.
If an employer meets one of the following conditions, it may have different requirements:
domestic service employees
organizations that are religious, charitable, or educational
There's also a "mini-COBRA" rule in Georgia, called the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act. It requires any employer with under 20 workers to provide the option for continuing COBRA coverage. This provides coverage for any remaining days of the month that an employee loses their coverage, in addition to an additional three to 36 months. The exact length of time depends on your specific situation.
If the employee has been covered for a minimum of six months, the employer must offer this continuation coverage to the worker and any dependents that are covered. However, if there is due cause for termination, there is no requirement to provide the option of this COBRA continuation coverage. If you're an employee who does take this plan, you must pay the full premium, which includes your employer's share as well as your own, as well as 2 percent in administrative fees.
Weapons in the Workplace
Georgia residents with the proper legal paperwork may bring store concealed weapons within a personal vehicle that is locked while at work, according to Georgia law. This rule extends to firearms. However, a car can't be searched by an employer even if there is an agreement not to bring any licensed firearm with a vehicle that is locked.
Some parking lots are not subject to this law, such as:
an employer's parking lot that is secure and has access that is restricted to the public and performs uniform searches upon entry
prison parking lots
electric utility parking lots
U.S. DoD contractors
parking lots that are adjacent to storage facility for gas, liquid petroleum or water
parking lots adjacent to law enforcement
parking lots that are owned by the employer as private property
Smokefree Air Act
The Smokefree Air Act in Georgia prevents anyone from smoking indoors or in areas that are enclosed and in a place of employment. An employer can create an indoor smoking area as long as no work is performed there and there is a separate system to handle the airflow. If it's a private place of employment that only lets the public in by appointment, there can be an exemption to the smoking ban.
There are specific types of employers who aren't subject to the Smokefree Air act. These include tobacco retailers, manufacturing plants of tobacco, some restaurants or bars, long-term care facilities, and private residence employers (unless it involves care, like child care or adult day care).
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