North Dakota Labor Law

1. Introduction

Understanding the state law of North Dakota is essential for both employers and employees to ensure that labor practices within the state align with legal requirements and promote fair treatment in the workplace. North Dakota's laws regulate a wide range of employment-related issues including, but not limited to, minimum wage, overtime compensation, vacation and sick leave, public holidays, breaks, termination procedures, unemployment benefits, and workplace safety. These laws are designed to create a balance between supporting businesses and protecting the rights of workers. In this comprehensive article, we will delve into each aspect of the employment law as outlined by the state of North Dakota, detailing the standards and practices that govern the employer-employee relationship.

While the federal law sets the baseline for employment regulations, states often provide additional protections and stipulations; North Dakota is no exception. As one navigates through the workforce landscape of the state, it is important to stay informed about these regulations to ensure compliance and to secure one's rights. Whether you are starting a new job, running a business, or dealing with employment-related issues, a clear understanding of North Dakota state law can help you make informed decisions and navigate legal matters with confidence. With this framework in mind, we will explore specific employment laws that are currently in effect within North Dakota.

2. Minimum Wage Laws

In the State of North Dakota, the minimum wage is set to match the federal minimum wage, unless the state enacts its own higher minimum wage law. As of the knowledge cutoff date, the minimum wage in North Dakota is the same as the federal rate of $7.25 per hour for most workers, which has been in effect since July 24, 2009. This minimum wage applies to employees in businesses with annual gross sales or business done of at least $500,000 and to employees engaged in interstate commerce or the production of goods for interstate commerce.

North Dakota law also stipulates that tipped employees may be paid a lower cash wage, provided that the combination of tips and the cash wage meets or exceeds the standard minimum wage. Employers are required to make up the difference if an employee's tips plus the cash wage do not equal the minimum hourly wage. For tipped employees, this minimum cash wage is $4.86 per hour.

It is important to note that certain types of employment are exempt from the minimum wage requirements. These exemptions include but are not limited to individuals employed on small farms, newspaper delivery personnel, and some seasonal workers. Additionally, learners and apprentices, as well as students in certain educational programs, may be paid a lower wage, but only under specific conditions and for a limited time as defined by the law.

The state also provides for a training wage for newly hired employees under the age of 20. Eligible workers may be paid a training wage of $4.25 per hour during their first 90 consecutive calendar days of employment with an employer. This training wage is designed to provide an incentive for employers to hire young, inexperienced workers.

  • Regular Minimum Wage: $7.25 per hour
  • Tipped Minimum Cash Wage: $4.86 per hour
  • Training Minimum Wage: $4.25 per hour (for eligible workers under the age of 20)

Employers must also be mindful of potential future changes to the minimum wage rate, either through federal updates or state legislative action. Compliance with these laws is crucial, as failure to pay the legal minimum wage can result in penalties for the employer, including the payment of back wages owed and possible fines.

Employees and employers are encouraged to review current regulations regularly and consult with the North Dakota Department of Labor, or a legal professional when in doubt, to ensure compliance with all applicable wage laws.

3. Overtime Regulations

In North Dakota, overtime regulations stipulate that employers must pay employees one and one-half times their regular rate of pay for all hours worked in excess of 40 hours in a workweek. These rules align with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which sets forth federal overtime guidelines. While some states may have varying definitions of overtime hours, North Dakota adheres to the FLSA standard.

There are, however, several occupations and categories of employees that are exempt from overtime under both federal and state law. Common exemptions include certain salaried employees who are in executive, administrative, or professional positions, as defined by the FLSA. Other specific exemptions may apply to farmworkers, certain transportation workers, and employees of certain seasonal amusement or recreational establishments, among others.

It's important to note that overtime pay is calculated based on the number of hours worked in a single workweek, rather than by day or by pay period. Employers cannot average the number of hours worked over two or more weeks to avoid paying overtime.

For non-exempt employees, the following applies:

  • Overtime pay is due after 40 hours of work in a workweek.
  • Overtime pay rate is at least 1.5 times the employee's regular hourly rate.
  • Overtime is calculated each workweek and not by the pay period.
  • Employers cannot use comp time in place of overtime pay for private-sector workers.

Some employers may offer compensation time, or "comp time," to public sector employees, which allows workers to take time off with pay at the overtime rate instead of receiving immediate overtime pay. However, this practice is generally not permitted in the private sector under North Dakota state law and the FLSA.

Employers must also keep accurate records of all hours worked by employees and of any overtime hours worked, as well as pay records. Failure to comply with overtime regulations can lead to significant legal consequences, including the recovery of unpaid overtime compensation, liquidated damages, fines, and in some cases, criminal prosecution.

Employees who believe they have not been paid the correct overtime wages can file a complaint with the North Dakota Department of Labor or the U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division. It is advisable for employers to review their payroll practices regularly and for employees to keep track of their hours to ensure compliance with overtime laws.

4. Vacation Leave

In North Dakota, vacation leave benefits are not required by state law; rather, they are offered at the discretion of the employer. This means that employers are not legally obligated to provide paid or unpaid vacation leave to their employees. However, if an employer chooses to offer vacation leave, it must comply with its own established policies and any relevant contractual agreements.

When it comes to vacation leave policies, the following points are generally applicable under North Dakota law:

  • Employers have the right to establish the terms of vacation leave, including eligibility, accrual rates, carryover of unused time, and any conditions for its use.
  • Employers are also free to decide whether vacation pay will be paid out upon termination of employment. If the employer's policy or employee contract does not require payout of unused vacation leave, there is no legal obligation to do so.
  • Any policy or contractual agreement regarding vacation leave must be honored as a binding agreement. An employer cannot retroactively alter vacation accrual rates or deny earned leave without potentially breaching these agreements.
  • It is recommended that employers clearly communicate their vacation leave policies to their employees, typically through employee handbooks or individual contracts, to avoid misunderstandings or disputes.
  • Discrepancies between promised benefits and actual practices may lead to claims of breach of contract or wage theft.

For employees, understanding the employer’s vacation leave policy is crucial to ensure that one can plan and utilize their earned leave appropriately. Employees should review any documentation related to vacation leave, such as employee handbooks or their employment contract, and direct any questions about leave accrual or usage to their HR department or employer.

As vacation policies can vary greatly between employers, it’s important for both parties to be clear on the details of how vacation leave is granted, accrued, used, and potentially paid out upon leaving the company.

It should be noted that even though state law does not mandate vacation leave, some employers may use generous vacation policies as an incentive to attract and retain talented employees in a competitive job market.

5. Sick Leave

Sick leave in North Dakota is not mandated by state employment law, meaning there is no state requirement for employers to provide paid or unpaid sick leave to their employees. However, some North Dakota employers may choose to offer sick leave benefits either as a matter of company policy or through collective bargaining agreements.

When an employer does choose to provide sick leave, the terms and conditions of that leave are typically outlined in an employment contract or employee handbook. These terms may include eligibility requirements, accrual rates, allowable uses for sick leave, procedures for notifying the employer of an absence, and documentation requirements when taking sick leave.

Key points to consider regarding sick leave policies in North Dakota include:

  • Employers that offer sick leave must adhere to their own established policies and enforce them consistently among all employees.
  • Sick leave can be structured based on accrual over time, or it can be granted as a lump sum at the beginning of a year or employment period.
  • Some employers may allow employees to carry over unused sick leave into the next year, while others may have a "use it or lose it" policy.
  • In the absence of any state-mandated regulation, payout for unused sick leave upon termination is subject to the employer's policy. Employers are not legally required to pay out accrued sick leave when an employee leaves the company unless their policy states otherwise.
  • If an employer does provide sick leave, they must ensure that the policy complies with federal laws, such as the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which protects eligible employees' jobs in cases of certain family and medical reasons.

It is critical for employees in North Dakota to understand their employer's sick leave policy and to know their rights under any applicable federal laws. Employees should review relevant policy documents and ask questions if any aspects of the policy are unclear.

While state law does not require sick leave, providing such benefits can benefit employers by improving overall employee health and productivity, reducing the spread of illness in the workplace, and enhancing employee morale and retention.

Ultimately, the provision and management of sick leave in North Dakota are left to the discretion of individual employers, and it remains an important consideration for employees when evaluating the benefits offered by prospective or current employers.

6. Holiday Leave

Holiday leave in North Dakota is generally not mandated by state law, which means employers are not legally required to provide their employees with time off, whether paid or unpaid, for federal or state holidays. The recognition and payment for holiday leave are generally at the discretion of the employer and may be included as part of an employment contract or company policy.

The state of North Dakota recognizes several federal holidays on which state offices are closed. These holidays include:

  • New Year's Day (January 1)
  • Martin Luther King Jr. Day (Third Monday in January)
  • Presidents' Day (Third Monday in February)
  • Good Friday (Friday before Easter Sunday – state offices close at noon)
  • Memorial Day (Last Monday in May)
  • Independence Day (July 4)
  • Labor Day (First Monday in September)
  • Veterans Day (November 11)
  • Thanksgiving Day (Fourth Thursday in November)
  • Christmas Day (December 25)

Employers who choose to provide holiday leave should clearly outline the specifics in their holiday policies. These details may include:

  • The specific holidays that will be recognized and observed with time off.
  • Whether holiday leave will be paid or unpaid.
  • Eligibility requirements for holiday pay (e.g., employee status or length of service).
  • Any special pay rates (e.g., time and a half or double time) for employees who work on a holiday.
  • Procedures for requesting time off around holidays and the impact it may have on holiday pay.

While holiday leave is not required by North Dakota state law, many employers provide it as a benefit to employees. In these cases, if an employer has an established policy to provide holiday pay, they must adhere to it. Employers cannot selectively grant holiday benefits to some employees while denying them to others in similar positions, as this could lead to discrimination claims.

It’s also worth noting that some businesses may have increased demands during certain holidays, such as retail establishments during the Christmas season or restaurants on Valentine's Day. In these industries, employers may request that employees work on holidays and are within their rights to do so, barring any contractual agreements to the contrary. Employees working in such sectors should confirm holiday policies upon hiring or well in advance of holiday periods.

For both employers and employees, understanding the holiday leave policy of a place of business is crucial. This ensures that both parties are aware of their rights and responsibilities, leading to a transparent and fair work environment when it comes to holiday observances.

6. Breaks

Break periods and meal times in the workplace are governed by both federal standards and state-specific laws. In North Dakota, state law does not legally require employers to provide breaks, including lunch or coffee breaks, for workers eighteen (18) years of age or older. However, when employers choose to offer short breaks, usually lasting five (5) to twenty (20) minutes, the federal law requires that these brief rest periods be counted as work time and compensated as such.

As for meal periods, which are customarily thirty (30) minutes or longer, North Dakota law does not mandate employers to offer a meal break. Nonetheless, if an employer provides an unpaid meal break, the employee must be completely relieved of all duties for the purpose of eating regular meals and must not be counted as working time—as specified by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). If the employee is required to perform any duties, whether active or inactive, while eating, then the meal period must be paid.

In regards to minors under the age of eighteen (18), North Dakota labor laws specify certain protections under Section 34-07-05 of the North Dakota Century Code. Employers must give a meal period of at least thirty (30) minutes to employees under the age of eighteen (18) who are scheduled to work five consecutive hours or more. This meal break must be provided at a time reasonably close to the usual meal period or about the middle of the work shift.

  • Breaks for adults are not required by North Dakota state law but are considered compensable work hours if offered.
  • Meal periods for adults are not required by North Dakota state law. If offered and the employee is relieved of all duties, the break is not compensable.
  • Minors must receive a meal period of at least 30 minutes for shifts of five hours or more, close to the standard meal time or the middle of their shift.

It's important for employers and employees to be aware that, although breaks are not required by North Dakota state law for adult workers, employers may still elect to include break and meal period policies in their company handbooks or contracts. When such policies are in place, employers must adhere to them, as they may be regarded as binding employment terms.

Lastly, it is recommended for employers to consider industry-specific standards and employee well-being when deciding on break and meal period policies. Productive work environments often incorporate adequate rest periods into their operational policies to maintain high levels of employee satisfaction and efficiency.

For clarification on the specifics regarding break and meal period policies, employees should refer to their respective company’s policy documentation or discuss with their employer directly to understand their rights and the company's practices.

8. Employment Termination Laws

In North Dakota, employment relationships are generally considered at-will, which means that either the employer or the employee may terminate employment at any time and for any reason, or for no reason at all, as long as the termination is not in violation of an employment contract, discriminatory, retaliatory, or otherwise prohibited by law.

Employers must be cautious, however, to not infringe upon an employee’s protected rights when terminating employment. For instance, federal and state laws prohibit termination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, or genetic information. Retaliation against an employee who has engaged in legally protected activities, such as filing a discrimination claim or whistleblower actions, is also illegal.

The following outlines key aspects of employment termination laws in North Dakota:

  • Final Paycheck: Upon termination of employment, whether by the employer or the employee, final wages must be given no later than the next regular payday. If requested by the employee, the final paycheck may be mailed.
  • Notice Period: North Dakota state law does not require employers to provide notice to an employee prior to termination or layoff, unless stipulated by an employment contract or collective bargaining agreement.
  • Mass Layoffs: Under the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act, employers with 100 or more employees are required to provide 60 days' advance notice of plant closings and mass layoffs in certain situations. This federal requirement applies in North Dakota as there are no additional state-specific requirements.
  • Unemployment Benefits: Terminated employees may be eligible for unemployment benefits, provided they were separated from their job through no fault of their own and meet other eligibility criteria. The North Dakota Unemployment Insurance program manages these benefits.
  • Severance Pay: There is no requirement under North Dakota law for employers to provide severance pay upon termination of employment. Any provision of severance pay would be determined by individual company policy or employment agreements.
  • Constructive Discharge: Situations where an employee feels compelled to resign due to the employer creating a hostile or intolerable work environment could potentially be considered a "constructive discharge" and may give rise to legal claims against the employer.
  • Employment Contracts and Union Agreements: If an employee has a written employment contract or is covered by a collective bargaining agreement, the terms specified within those documents regarding notice and conditions for termination must be followed. This can include early termination clauses, disciplinary procedures, or grievance mechanisms.

Given the potential complexities surrounding termination of employment, it is recommended that both employers and employees consult with legal counsel or refer to the North Dakota Department of Labor and Human Rights to understand their rights and obligations. Having clear written policies that comply with the law and implementing them fairly and consistently can help mitigate the risks associated with employment termination.

Terminating an employee can be a difficult decision and carries legal risks if not handled properly. It is important for employers to document performance concerns, disciplinary actions, and the reasons for termination to protect themselves in case of a dispute. Similarly, employees who feel they have been wrongfully terminated should seek legal advice to determine whether they may have a claim against their former employer.

9. Unemployment Rights

Unemployment insurance (UI) in North Dakota provides temporary financial assistance to workers who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own and who are actively seeking work. The North Dakota Job Service is responsible for administering the UI program, which is funded by employers through payroll taxes. The following outlines key aspects of unemployment rights in North Dakota.

  • Eligibility Requirements: To qualify for unemployment benefits in North Dakota, an individual must have earned a certain amount of wages during a base period, which is typically the first four of the last five completed calendar quarters before filing a claim. They must also be able and available to work, and they must be actively seeking employment.
  • Benefit Amounts: The amount of UI benefits a person can receive in North Dakota depends on their previous earnings. Benefits are calculated as a percentage of an individual's wages during the base period, subject to a weekly maximum benefit amount, which is adjusted annually.
  • Duration of Benefits: The standard duration for receiving UI benefits in North Dakota is up to 26 weeks within a one-year period. However, this duration can change depending on the state's unemployment rate and in cases where extended benefits are activated due to economic conditions.
  • Claim Process: Individuals seeking unemployment benefits must file a claim with North Dakota Job Service, which can be done online or by phone. Claimants are required to provide personal information, details about their previous employment, and the reason for their unemployment.
  • Work Search Requirements: While receiving unemployment benefits, individuals must be actively seeking work and must keep a record of their job search activities. Claimants are typically required to make a minimum number of job contacts each week and may be required to participate in other job service programs.
  • Disqualification from Benefits: Certain circumstances may disqualify a person from receiving unemployment benefits, such as voluntary quit without good cause, discharge for misconduct related to employment, refusal of suitable work, and making false statements on a claim.
  • Appeals Process: If an individual disagrees with a decision regarding their unemployment benefits, they have the right to appeal. The appeal must be filed within a specified time frame, and a hearing will be scheduled to allow both the claimant and the employer to present their case.

It is important for North Dakota workers to understand their unemployment rights and the procedures involved in filing a claim. Staying informed about these regulations ensures that eligible individuals receive the support they need while they look for new employment opportunities.

10. Workplace Safety

In North Dakota, workplace safety is governed by state regulations and enforced by various agencies. The key regulatory body for maintaining safe work environments is the North Dakota Department of Labor and Human Rights (NDLHR). However, for industries such as mining and construction that have unique hazards, additional oversight may be provided by federal agencies like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

The primary goal of workplace safety laws is to provide a safe and healthy work environment for all employees. This includes creating rules and guidelines on proper employee training, use of personal protective equipment (PPE), reporting and documentation of workplace injuries and illnesses, and adherence to industry-specific safety standards.

Key aspects of workplace safety in North Dakota include:

  • Risk Assessments: Employers are required to conduct regular risk assessments to identify potential hazards within the workplace and to implement appropriate measures to prevent accidents or injuries.
  • Safety Training: Employees must receive training related to health and safety issues pertinent to their specific job roles. This training often includes emergency response procedures, equipment usage, and how to properly handle hazardous materials.
  • Reporting and Record-Keeping: North Dakota employers must keep detailed records of workplace accidents, injuries, and diagnosed occupational illnesses. In the case of serious incidents, these must be reported to the relevant authorities within a specified timeframe.
  • Workers’ Compensation Insurance: State law requires employers to have workers' compensation insurance to cover employees in case of a workplace injury or illness. This system helps provide financial assistance to injured workers for medical expenses and lost wages.
  • Workplace Inspections: Certain workplaces may be subject to regular inspections by state or federal safety agencies to ensure compliance with safety regulations. Noncompliance can lead to penalties including fines and, in severe cases, business closure.
  • Right to Refuse Unsafe Work: Workers in North Dakota have the right to refuse work that they reasonably believe to be dangerous to themselves or their colleagues. Employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who exercise this right.
  • Health Programs: To promote ongoing employee health and to prevent work-related illnesses, some employers may offer wellness programs, health screenings, and additional health-related benefits.

It is essential for employers to stay updated with the most recent state regulations and incorporate changes into their workplace safety programs. Doing so not only ensures legal compliance but also fosters a culture of safety that can increase worker productivity, morale, and retention.