Nebraska Labor Law

1. Introduction

The state of Nebraska, nestled in the heartland of the United States, maintains a unique set of labor laws that govern employment practices within its jurisdiction. These regulations are designed to ensure fair treatment, safety, and equitable compensation for the workforce, balancing the needs of businesses and employees alike. In this comprehensive article, we will explore a range of pertinent topics that inform employee-employer relations in Nebraska. From minimum wage stipulations and overtime policies to the nuances of leave entitlements and unemployment rights, each segment presents an in-depth look at the legal frameworks that safeguard workers' rights while supporting the state's economic stability. The intricacies of workplace safety standards will also be dissected, ensuring a holistic understanding of the labor law landscape in Nebraska State.

2. Minimum Wage Laws

In Nebraska, the minimum wage is an essential facet of labor law, aimed at ensuring a basic standard of living for all workers. As of January 1st, 2024, the minimum wage in Nebraska is $12.00 per hour, higher than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.

However, there are certain exceptions to this rule:

  • The state law allows Nebraska employers to pay a youth minimum wage of $4.25/hr to employees who are under 20 years old, during the first 90 calendar days of employment.
  • Tipped employees, such as waitstaff and bartenders, may be paid a cash wage of $2.13 per hour, provided that tipped income makes up the difference to reach the full minimum wage. If tips and cash wage do not amount to the applicable minimum wage, the employer must make up the difference.
  • Full-time students, student learners, apprentices, and workers with disabilities may be paid under special certificates issued by the Nebraska Department of Labor, typically at a rate not lower than 85% of the minimum wage.

It is important to note that employers are subject to both federal and state minimum wage laws. In cases where an employee is subject to both the state and federal minimum wage laws, the employee is entitled to the higher of the two minimum wages.

Non-compliance from the employer's side regarding minimum wage requirements can lead to severe penalties. Workers who have not been paid the correct minimum wage have the right to recover the unpaid wages, liquidated damages, and attorney’s fees through legal actions.

3. Overtime Regulations

In Nebraska, like many other states, the overtime regulations are guided by the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The FLSA establishes minimum wage, overtime pay, recordkeeping, and youth employment standards affecting most full-time and part-time workers in the private sector and in federal, state, and local governments.

Landmark overtime rules in Nebraska require that an employer must pay non-exempt employees an overtime rate of one and a half times their regular rate for all hours worked beyond 40 in a workweek. A workweek is defined as any fixed and regularly recurring period of 168 hours or seven consecutive 24-hour periods. It doesn't necessarily have to align with the calendar week, but could start on any day and at any hour of the day.

It is important to note that not all workers are entitled to overtime payment under the FLSA. Exemptions are provided for certain administrative, professional, executive, highly compensated, outside sales, computer professionals, and other employees meeting specific regulatory requirements.

Employers are required to maintain accurate time records showing the hours worked each day and total hours worked each workweek. These records serve as proof if there's a dispute over the payment of wages or overtime.

If an employer fails to pay the required overtime pay, employees may file a wage claim with the Nebraska Department of Labor, or file a lawsuit in court against the employer to recover the unpaid overtime.

4. Vacation Leave

In Nebraska, there are no state laws requiring employers to provide vacation leave, either paid or unpaid, to their employees. Rather, it is up to each employer's discretion to develop their own policies concerning vacation leave. This is often used as a benefit to attract and retain employees. As such, it is important for employees to understand the specific guidelines that their employer has established regarding vacation time.

If an employer decides to offer vacation leave, they are required to adhere to the terms of their established policy or employment agreement. For example, if a company's policy states that employees will accrue one day of vacation leave per month, the company is legally obligated to fulfill this promise. Additionally, any changes to the vacation policy must be communicated to employees in advance.

When it comes to payout of unused vacation leave upon termination of employment, Nebraska law does not specifically dictate how this should be handled. Typically, whether an employee receives payment for unused vacation time depends on the employer's policy. Therefore, it's recommended that employers clearly define these terms in their written vacation policy.

Despite the absence of a statutory obligation, many Nebraska employers do offer vacation leave to their employees, recognizing the value of rest and recuperation. It's a best practice for employees to familiarize themselves with the company's vacation policy to fully understand their rights and obligations regarding vacation leave.

5. Sick Leave

Just like vacation leave, sick leave is not mandated by Nebraska's state laws for private-sector employees. The provision of such leave is at the sole discretion of the employer, and the policies can significantly vary from one employer to another.

When an employer elects to provide sick leave, the rules relating to its use, accrual, and rollover are typically outlined in a policy or employment contract. Some employers may offer a set number of paid sick days per year, while others might have a PTO (Paid Time Off) policy that covers different types of leave, including sick leave. Procedures for notification of illness and evidence required for taking sick leave, like doctor's notes, would also be detailed in the employer’s sick leave or general leave policy.

Although it's not a state requirement, many Nebraska employers choose to offer sick leave as part of a competitive benefits package to attract and retain employees. Benefits like these not only promote employee wellness but can also enhance productivity by allowing employees time to recover from illness without the pressure of lost wages.

Even though there is no state-mandated sick leave, it's important to note that under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) eligible employees are entitled to up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year for specified family and medical reasons, which can include serious health conditions that make the employee unable to perform their job duties. This federal law applies to both public and private employers with 50 or more employees.

Overall, employees are recommended to thoroughly familiarize themselves with their employer's sick leave policies, or any related PTO policies, to understand their rights and obligations regarding sick leave.

6. Holiday Leave

In Nebraska, there are no state laws mandating paid or unpaid holiday leave for private-sector employees. The provision of holiday leave in the private sector is discretionary and typically outlined in an employer's policy or employment contract. Paid time off for holidays such as New Year's Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas Day is typically provided by many employers as a benefit to their employees, but this varies widely among businesses.

Although not required by law, many Nebraska companies acknowledge the importance of allowing employees time off to celebrate national holidays as a way to improve morale and promote work-life balance. If an employer chooses to offer holiday leave, they must comply with their stated policy or agreement. This means that if an employer's policy promises paid holidays, the employer is obligated to fulfill this commitment.

Furthermore, there may be additional stipulations surrounding holiday pay. For instance, some companies may require employees to work the day before and after a holiday to be eligible for holiday pay. Others may offer premium pay, such as one-and-a-half times the regular rate, to employees who work on recognized holidays. These conditions should be clearly stated in an employer's holiday leave policy.

Lastly, it is important to note that public employees in Nebraska may have different holiday leave regulations. These can be governed by union contracts, public policy, or other governmental regulations.

Overall, it is recommended for employees to familiarize themselves with their employer's holiday leave policy to understand their entitlements and requirements for taking such leave.

7. Breaks

In accordance with the Nebraska labor law, employers have specific regulations established for providing breaks to their employees. The duration and frequency of these breaks often depend on the length of an employee's shift and the nature of the work performed.

For adult employees, Nebraska law does not require employers to provide meal or rest breaks. However, if an employer chooses to do so, breaks that last less than 20 minutes must be paid. Meal breaks - typically 30 minutes or longer - do not need to be paid, as long as the employee is completely relieved from duty and free to do as they wish during this time. It's worth noting that many employers voluntarily establish break policies to maintain productivity and morale in the workplace.

When it comes to minor employees, specifically those under the age of sixteen, Nebraska law stipulates more stringent break requirements. Minors must be given a 30-minute meal break after every five hours of continuous work. This provision helps ensure the well-being and welfare of young workers, who might be particularly susceptible to fatigue and other work-related stresses.

All in all, while Nebraska state law provides minimal mandatory break requirements, especially for adult workers, many employers choose to adopt more generous policies. These may include shorter, more frequent rest breaks or longer meal breaks. In any case, employees should become familiar with their employer's break policies to understand their rights and expectations in the workplace.

8. Employment Termination Laws

In the state of Nebraska, employment is typically regarded as "at-will". This means that an employer has the right to terminate an employee at any time and for any reason, or even no reason at all. Similarly, an employee can also choose to end their employment at any time, with or without notice or reason.

However, Nebraska's "at-will" employment doctrine does have some exceptions and limitations:

  • Employers cannot terminate an employee for discriminatory reasons. The federal law prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, pregnancy, religion, age (over 40), disability, citizenship status, and genetic information. State law additionally prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
  • Terminating an employee in retaliation for certain "protected activities" is illegal. These activities may include filing a complaint about discrimination or unsafe working conditions, requesting accommodation for a disability or religious belief, asking about salary information to uncover potentially discriminatory wages, or whistleblowing.
  • Employers cannot violate the terms of an employment contract or collective bargaining agreement. If the contract specifies certain conditions for termination, such as a required notice period or grounds for termination, the employer must comply with these terms.

When a termination of employment occurs, Nebraska law does not require employers to provide final paychecks immediately. However, employers must issue a final paycheck by the next regular payday following the termination date or within two weeks of the demand for wages by the employee, whichever is sooner. All earned and unpaid wages, including accrued but unused vacation pay if promised by the employer's policy or contract, must be included in the final paycheck.

Nebraska law also requires employers to maintain terminated employees' personnel records for a certain period of time, providing a former employee or their designated representative a reasonable opportunity to inspect the individual's personnel records after termination.

In the event of a wrongful termination, employees may have grounds to pursue legal action against the employer. Reinstatement, back pay, compensatory damages, and punitive damages may be available remedies, depending on the specific circumstances. If an employee believes they were wrongfully terminated, they may file a complaint with the Nebraska Equal Opportunity Commission or the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In some cases, it may be advisable to consult an attorney to explore possible legal claims.

9. Unemployment Rights

In the state of Nebraska, unemployment insurance is a type of social welfare measure designed to offer temporary relief to people who lose their jobs through no fault of their own. This system is administered by the Nebraska Department of Labor. Understanding your rights when you become unemployed can help you get through this challenging period. Below are the key aspects of Nebraska's unemployment rights.

  • Eligibility for Unemployment Benefits: To be eligible for benefits, you must have earned sufficient wages from an employer covered by the state’s unemployment laws over a 12-month period. You must also be actively looking for work and ready to accept suitable employment.

  • Claiming Unemployment Benefits: If you meet the eligibility criteria, you can file an initial claim. Nebraska’s Department of Labor encourages individuals to file claims online for faster processing. Once your claim is accepted, you will need to submit weekly claims documenting your ongoing eligibility.

  • Benefit Amount: The amount you receive weekly will depend on the wages earned during your base period. However, there are minimum and maximum limits set by law. The current maximum weekly benefit amount in Nebraska is $440.

  • Duration of Benefits: Generally, you can receive unemployment benefits for up to 26 weeks. However, the duration can be extended during high unemployment periods.

  • Appeal Rights: If your unemployment claim is denied, you have the right to appeal the decision. Appeals must be filed in writing within a specific timeframe after the notice of determination is issued.

It is essential to remember that unemployment benefits are supposed to be a temporary relief. Hence, suitable job search activities are required to maintain eligibility for benefits. The Nebraska Department of Labor provides resources and assistance for job seekers to help facilitate a successful return to work.

10. Workplace Safety

Workplace safety is a significant aspect of Nebraska State Law and encompasses regulations designed to protect the health and safety of employees. These laws ensure that workplaces maintain certain standards to prevent accidents, injuries, and illnesses related to occupational hazards.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), a federal agency, primarily governs these laws. Still, Nebraska has an approved state plan that applies to all public and private sector businesses within the state, excluding federal employees, the United States Postal Service, private sector maritime activities, contract workers and volunteers at federally recognized Indian Tribes. These are covered by Federal OSHA.

The Nebraska Occupational Health and Safety Act represents the backbone of the state's safety regulations. The Act gives employees the following rights:

  • The right to request an inspection of their workplace if hazardous conditions are believed to be present.
  • The right to receive information and training about hazards, methods to prevent harm and applicable OSHA standards in a language they can understand.
  • The right to obtain copies of test results to find hazards in the workplace.
  • The right to review records of work-related injuries and illnesses.

Employers are required by law to provide a safe working environment for their employees. They must meet the safety and health standards established by the federal and state OSHA, including but not limited to:

  • Displaying the official OSHA poster that describes rights and responsibilities under the Act in a prominent place within the workplace.
  • Reporting any work-related fatality within 8 hours and any inpatient hospitalization, amputation, or eye loss within 24 hours.
  • Complying with the hazard communication standard, which includes the development and maintenance of a written Hazard Communication Program, employee training on hazardous chemicals in their work area, and providing access to Safety Data Sheets (SDSs).

Violations of Nebraska's Occupational Health and Safety Act can result in penalties. The Nebraska Department of Labor is responsible for enforcing these laws and conducting workplace inspections to ensure compliance.

In conclusion, workplace safety in Nebraska is governed by a comprehensive set of laws and regulations aimed at preventing workplace accidents and illnesses. Both employers and employees have rights and responsibilities under these laws to promote a safe and healthy working environment.