South Dakota Labor Law

1. Introduction

The state laws of South Dakota shape and define the working environment for employers and employees within the state's jurisdiction. These laws are pivotal in ensuring fair treatment, safety, and a mutually beneficial relationship between parties involved in the labor market. Understanding these laws is essential for both the workforce and business owners to navigate the complexities of employment in South Dakota.

South Dakota's state statutes encompass numerous aspects of employment, from how much workers should be compensated for their labor to how they are protected in the workplace. It's important to note that while state law provides the foundation for employment law within the state, federal laws, such as the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), and others also apply and sometimes offer broader protections. Employers operating in South Dakota must comply with both sets of laws, often defaulting to the law that most benefits the employee.

This comprehensive article seeks to elucidate the various components of South Dakota State Law as it pertains to the employer-employee relationship. By delving into the specifics of state legislation, we aim to provide a clear and structured understanding of the legal framework governing employment within the state of South Dakota.

2. Minimum Wage Laws

In South Dakota, the minimum wage is an important legal baseline set to ensure that employees receive a fair wage for their work. As of the last update to this article, the state has established its minimum wage to be $11.20 per hour, which is subject to change with new legislation or annual adjustments linked to the cost of living. This state-mandated minimum wage applies to most workers in South Dakota, with some exceptions based on employment type and size of the business.

The minimum wage law in South Dakota also makes provisions for tipped employees, such as waitstaff in restaurants, who may be paid a lower direct cash wage. This cash wage must be at least $4.975 per hour as long as the amount of tips received brings the total hourly wage up to or above the standard minimum wage. Employers are responsible for ensuring that the total hourly wages for tipped employees meet the minimum wage requirement when direct cash wage and tips are combined.

There are certain exemptions to the minimum wage law, which include, but are not limited to, certain seasonal employees, student learners, apprentices, and individuals employed by small businesses grossing less than $400,000 annually that are not involved in interstate commerce. The South Dakota minimum wage law does not cover all aspects of employment; for example, it does not regulate issues such as severance pay, sick pay, vacation pay, or holiday pay unless the employer has entered into a contract that specifies such benefits.

It is crucial for employers to stay informed about the current minimum wage rates, as failure to comply with these laws can lead to significant penalties, including fines and payment of back wages. Employees who believe they are not being paid the correct wages can file a claim with the South Dakota Department of Labor & Regulation for investigation.

For young workers under the age of 20, the FLSA allows for a youth minimum wage of $4.25 per hour during their first 90 consecutive calendar days of employment with an employer, as long as their work does not displace other workers. After this introductory period, the standard minimum wage applies.

It is important for both employees and employers in South Dakota to understand these regulations to ensure lawful compensation practices. In instances where state and federal minimum wage laws differ, the higher minimum wage standard will apply.

3. Overtime Regulations

Overtime pay in South Dakota is governed by both state and federal laws, which typically align to ensure workers are fairly compensated for hours worked beyond the standard workweek. Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which South Dakota adheres to, overtime must be paid to employees working more than 40 hours in a workweek.

The FLSA defines overtime pay as one and one-half times an employee's regular rate of pay. This means that for every hour worked over the 40-hour threshold in a single workweek, employees are entitled to receive 1.5 times their standard hourly wage. South Dakota does not have a separate state law regarding overtime, so the provisions set forth by the FLSA are the ones that employers in the state must follow.

  • Categories of Workers: It is critical to note that not all workers are eligible for overtime pay. Certain employees are considered "exempt" from overtime regulations under the FLSA. These exemptions generally apply to executive, administrative, professional, outside sales, and some computer employees, given that they meet specific criteria relating to their job duties and compensation.
  • Overtime Calculation for Tipped Employees: For tipped employees, overtime is calculated based on the full minimum wage rather than the lower direct cash wage payment. Employers must still ensure that tipped employees' total earnings (including tips) during overtime hours exceed one and one-half times the standard minimum wage.
  • Comp Time: In some cases, employers may offer compensatory time ("comp time") instead of cash for overtime. However, under the FLSA, this practice is generally permitted only for public sector employees. Private employers must typically provide cash overtime compensation.
  • Voluntary Work: Employers must count any additional hours worked voluntarily by employees towards the 40-hour workweek threshold for overtime eligibility. If an employee works overtime without the employer's permission, the employer is still required to pay for the overtime, but they may discipline the employee for violating company policy.
  • Recordkeeping: Employers in South Dakota must keep accurate records of hours worked and overtime paid, as this information can be requested by the Department of Labor during audits or investigations.

Employers are advised to carefully classify employees and manage work hours to ensure compliance with overtime regulations. Employees who believe their overtime rights have been violated can file a claim with the Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor. Violations can lead to legal penalties, including payment of back wages and damages.

In summary, while South Dakota state law does not offer unique overtime laws, the standards set by the FLSA provide clear guidelines for overtime eligibility and compensation. It is crucial for both employers and employees in South Dakota to understand these guidelines to prevent violations and to promote fair labor practices in the workplace.

4. Vacation Leave

In South Dakota, vacation leave benefits are not required by state law to be provided to employees. The decision to offer paid or unpaid vacation leave is often at the discretion of the employer. However, if an employer establishes a policy to provide such benefits, they must adhere to the terms of their vacation leave policy or employment contract.

  • Employer Policy: Employers who choose to offer vacation leave must follow their written policy or employment agreement consistently and fairly. Changes to the policy should be communicated to employees in advance.
  • Accrual System: Some employers in South Dakota use an accrual system for vacation leave, whereby employees earn a certain amount of vacation time per pay period. Employers have the liberty to cap the amount of vacation time an employee can accrue.
  • Use-It-Or-Lose-It Policy: Employers may implement a "use-it-or-lose-it" policy that requires employees to use their vacation leave within a certain period or forfeit it. Such policies are generally upheld as long as employees are given a reasonable opportunity to use their vacation leave.
  • Payment Upon Termination: South Dakota law does not require employers to pay out accrued vacation upon termination of employment. Whether payment for unused vacation is required depends on the terms of the employer's policy or employment contract.
  • Notice and Scheduling: Employers typically set requirements for how and when vacation leave can be taken, often requiring employees to request vacation time in advance. Scheduling of vacation leave is usually at the employer's discretion to ensure business operations are not unduly disrupted.

While South Dakota does not mandate vacation leave, companies that provide this benefit attract and retain employees more effectively by enhancing job satisfaction and work-life balance. It is advisable for employees to review their employer's vacation leave policy to understand their rights and obligations regarding vacation time.

Without state-level mandates on vacation leave, South Dakota's workers are encouraged to negotiate vacation terms before accepting a job offer or during their employment tenure. Reflecting on the importance of rest and personal time in preventing burnout and maintaining productivity, many South Dakota employers voluntarily include vacation leave as part of a comprehensive benefits package to promote the well-being of their workforce.

5. Sick Leave

In South Dakota, there is no state law that requires employers to provide sick leave benefits, whether paid or unpaid, to their employees. Similar to vacation leave, the provision of sick leave is largely based on company policy or an employment contract. Employers in South Dakota have the discretion to offer sick leave benefits and to set the terms and conditions under which these benefits are administered.

  • Employer Policies: If an employer chooses to offer sick leave, they must adhere to their own established policies or employee agreements. Consistency in applying these policies is critical to prevent potential claims of discrimination or unfair treatment.
  • Paid vs. Unpaid Sick Leave: Employers may offer either paid or unpaid sick leave, and the specifics of the accrual, usage, and carryover of such leave are subject to the employer's established policy.
  • Notification Requirements: Employers often require employees to provide notice when they need to use sick leave, sometimes including a doctor's note to substantiate the absence, especially for extended periods of illness.
  • Job Protection: While sick leave itself may not be guaranteed, employees in South Dakota might still be afforded job protection under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which allows eligible employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for serious health conditions or to care for immediate family members without fear of losing their job.
  • Documentation and Recordkeeping: Employers may keep records of sick leave used by employees to manage leave benefits and ensure compliance with their policies.

While not obligated by state law to provide sick leave, South Dakota employers may choose to do so as part of an attractive benefits package aimed at promoting a healthier work environment and reducing the spread of illness. Employees should be aware of any sick leave policies their employer has in place and should understand how to properly utilize this benefit if available.

It is also worth noting that some municipalities or local jurisdictions could have regulations affecting sick leave policies, and so employers and employees should remain informed about any local ordinances that may apply to their specific location within South Dakota.

As with other types of employee benefits, it's important for workers to discuss and fully understand their sick leave rights before accepting a position. Those currently employed should carefully review their company's sick leave policy to ensure they know how to appropriately report and use sick leave in accordance with their employer's guidelines.

6. Holiday Leave

South Dakota state law does not require private employers to provide paid or unpaid holiday leave for their employees. As in the case of vacation and sick leave, holiday leave is typically a benefit that employers may choose to offer at their discretion. If an employer decides to provide holiday leave, they must comply with their own policies or employment contracts.

  • Employer Discretion: Employers in South Dakota have the freedom to designate specific holidays as paid or unpaid time off. This can include federal holidays such as New Year's Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, among others.
  • Consistent Policy Application: Once an employer establishes a holiday leave policy, it must be applied consistently and fairly to all eligible employees to avoid potential discrimination claims.
  • Compensation for Holiday Work: If employees are required to work on holidays, compensation is generally at the regular rate unless otherwise stipulated in an employment contract or collective bargaining agreement. Unlike overtime pay, there is no requirement under South Dakota law for premium pay on holidays.
  • Part-time Employees: Employers are not obligated to provide holiday leave benefits to part-time employees. However, if they choose to do so, the terms should be clearly outlined in their holiday leave policy.
  • Notice and Scheduling: Employers may require employees to work on certain holidays depending on business needs. In such cases, employers typically provide notice to employees regarding holiday work schedules.

It is worth noting that public employers, such as state and local governments, may have separate policies regarding holiday leave, often providing a set number of paid holidays each year. However, these policies do not apply to private sector employees.

Employees in South Dakota should review their employer's holiday leave policy to understand their entitlements. While it is not a legal requirement within the state, many employers recognize the value of offering holiday leave as a way to support employee morale and maintain a competitive edge in the job market.

Ultimately, the provision of holiday leave in South Dakota is a matter of employer policy rather than state regulation. Employers and employees alike are encouraged to communicate clearly about holiday leave benefits to ensure mutual understanding and to foster positive working relationships.

7. Breaks

In South Dakota, break periods for workers are not mandated by state law for adult employees. The state defers to the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which also does not require employers to provide coffee breaks or meal periods to workers. Although not required by law, many employers in South Dakota offer rest breaks and meal periods as a benefit to employees and a practice to increase productivity and worker morale.

  • Rest Breaks: Employers who choose to provide short rest breaks—usually lasting around 5 to 20 minutes—must compensate employees for this time as it is considered hours worked and counts towards overtime calculations.
  • Meal Periods: Meal periods, typically lasting at least 30 minutes, are not required under South Dakota law. However, when employers do offer meal breaks, they do not have to pay employees if the employee is completely relieved of duties during the meal period. If an employee is required to work or be available for work duties during a meal break, they must be compensated for that time.
  • Minors: For employees under the age of 16, federal law requires a 30-minute rest period if they work more than five consecutive hours. South Dakota law aligns with this regulation to protect young workers.
  • Workplace Policies: While not required by law, employers often establish workplace policies regarding breaks. It is important for these policies to be communicated clearly to employees and applied consistently.
  • Nursing Mothers: Federal law, specifically the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, requires employers to provide reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for one year after the child's birth. Employers are required to provide a place other than a bathroom that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public.

It is advisable for employees in South Dakota to review their employer’s policies regarding breaks to fully understand their rights and the benefits provided. Employers, on the other hand, may find offering breaks advantageous for maintaining a healthy, efficient workforce, even though they are not compelled by state legislation to do so.

By nurturing a workplace culture that values employee well-being through optional provided breaks, South Dakota employers can positively impact employee satisfaction and productivity. As such, understanding the absence of specific state-mandated break laws is crucial for both sides of the employment relationship in setting expectations and fostering a mutually beneficial workplace environment.

8. Employment Termination Laws

Employment termination laws in South Dakota are centered around the concept of "employment-at-will." This doctrine forms the foundation of the employment relationship in the state, setting forth the parameters for ending employment either by the employer or the employee.

In an at-will employment state like South Dakota, either the employer or the employee can terminate the employment relationship at any time, with or without cause, and with or without notice, as long as the termination does not violate applicable federal or state laws, such as those prohibiting discrimination.

  • Wrongful Termination: While South Dakota adheres to the at-will employment doctrine, there are exceptions to this rule that could lead to a termination being considered wrongful. For instance, an employer cannot terminate an employee for discriminatory reasons, in retaliation for filing a workplace complaint, or for other protected activities.
  • Notice Period: Generally, no notice period is required for terminating employment in South Dakota. However, employers may specify a notice period in an employment contract or within their company policies.
  • Final Paycheck: According to South Dakota law (SDCL 60-11-14), upon the termination of employment, an employee must receive their final paycheck on or before the next regular payday or when the employee returns the employer's property, whichever is earlier. If mailed, the paycheck must be postmarked within the time limit.
  • Severance Pay: There is no statutory requirement in South Dakota for employers to offer severance pay to terminated employees. Severance agreements are typically a matter of negotiation between the employer and employee.
  • Layoff Notices: Employers conducting large-scale layoffs may be subject to the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN Act), which necessitates advance notice for qualified employees. However, South Dakota has no specific state law related to layoff notices.
  • Unemployment Benefits: Employees who are terminated may be eligible for unemployment benefits, provided they meet certain criteria set forth by the South Dakota Department of Labor & Regulation, including being terminated through no fault of their own and being able and available to work.
  • Dispute Resolution: In cases where there is a dispute over the terms of termination, such as breach of contract or wrongful termination claims, parties may seek resolution through the South Dakota Department of Labor & Regulation or the courts.
  • Covenants Not to Compete: Post-termination covenants not to compete, also known as non-compete agreements, are enforceable in South Dakota under certain circumstances. These agreements must be reasonable in scope, duration, and geographic area, and they must protect a legitimate business interest of the employer.

Understanding employment termination laws in South Dakota is crucial for both employers and employees. Employers should ensure that their termination policies and procedures comply with all relevant laws to mitigate the risk of legal action. It is highly recommended that employers document the reasons for termination and maintain records of performance issues or policy violations that may support their decision to terminate an employee.

Conversely, employees should be aware of their rights upon termination, including their right to a final paycheck in a timely manner and the potential eligibility for unemployment compensation. Should an employee feel that their termination was unjust or in violation of the law, they have the right to seek legal counsel or assistance from the South Dakota Department of Labor & Regulation.

Both parties are encouraged to approach employment termination with careful consideration, transparency, and an understanding of the legal ramifications involved.

9. Unemployment Rights

Under South Dakota law, workers who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own may be entitled to unemployment benefits. These benefits are designed to provide temporary financial assistance while the individual seeks new employment. The South Dakota Department of Labor & Regulation is responsible for administering the state’s unemployment insurance program.

Eligibility Requirements:

  • To qualify for unemployment benefits in South Dakota, an individual must have earned a minimum amount in wages during the base period, which is typically the first four of the last five completed calendar quarters before filing a claim.
  • The applicant must be either completely unemployed or working less than full-time due to no fault of their own.
  • Claimants must also be able to work, available for work, and actively seeking full-time employment.

Benefit Payments:

  • The amount of benefits that an unemployed worker can receive is based on their earnings during their base period.
  • The maximum and minimum benefit amounts are subject to change and are usually adjusted yearly.
  • Typically, eligible individuals can receive benefits for up to 26 weeks, although this duration can be extended during times of high unemployment rates.

Filing a Claim:

  • Candidates for unemployment must file a claim with the South Dakota Department of Labor & Regulation either online or at a local job service office.
  • Applicants must provide personal information, details about their previous employment, and the reason for their unemployment.
  • Claimants are required to file weekly claims to continue receiving benefits, confirming their ongoing eligibility and reporting any income earned during the week.


  • Individuals who quit their job without good cause, were fired for misconduct, or are not actively seeking work may be disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits.
  • If an individual refuses a suitable offer of work without good reason, they may also lose their eligibility for benefits.


  • If an initial unemployment claim is denied, the individual has the right to appeal the decision.
  • The appeals process includes a hearing before an administrative law judge, where both the claimant and former employer can present evidence and testimony.
  • After the hearing, a written decision is issued, and further appeals can be made to the Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board and subsequently to the state circuit court if necessary.

Employer Contributions:

  • Unemployment benefits are funded by taxes paid by employers. South Dakota assesses unemployment taxes based on an employer's experience rating, which is determined by the history of claims made by former employees.

In summary, South Dakota provides unemployment rights for individuals who are out of work due to no fault of their own. The aim is to temporarily support them financially while they look for new employment. Understanding these rights and the process for filing a claim is crucial for both employees and employers within the state.

10. Workplace Safety

In the state of South Dakota, workplace safety is governed by a combination of state and federal regulations designed to ensure that employees have a safe and healthy work environment. The main federal agency responsible for workplace safety is the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which sets and enforces protective workplace safety and health standards.

Employers in South Dakota are required to follow OSHA's regulations, as well as specific state rules that apply to their industry. Businesses must provide employees with a workplace that does not have serious hazards and must follow all OSHA safety and health standards. Employers are also obliged to find and correct safety and health problems, informing workers about potential hazards by using signs, color codes, labels, or training, and providing safety training in a language that workers can understand.

Key Workplace Safety Regulations in South Dakota:

  • Employers must report any work-related fatalities within 8 hours, and any in-patient hospitalizations, amputations, or losses of an eye within 24 hours.
  • Employee Right-to-Know laws require employers to inform employees about the known hazards of chemicals they may be exposed to in the workplace.
  • South Dakota has specific safety regulations for certain industries, such as mining and construction, which go beyond the general requirements to address industry-specific risks.
  • The state mandates that employers carry worker's compensation insurance to provide benefits for employees who get injured on the job or develop a work-related illness.
  • All employers are required to create and maintain an accident prevention program. Depending on the nature and size of the business, this program may include regular safety training, an employee safety committee, and regular workplace safety inspections.

Workers in South Dakota also have the right to:

  • Work in conditions free from known dangers.
  • Receive information and training about hazards, methods to prevent harm, and the OSHA standards that apply to their workplace.
  • Review records of work-related injuries and illnesses.
  • Request an OSHA inspection, and speak to the inspector confidentially if needed.
  • Exercise their rights under the law without retaliation or discrimination.

Should employers fail to comply with workplace safety regulations, they may face fines, penalties, and corrective actions from OSHA or state authorities. It's critical for both employers and employees to stay informed about the latest regulations and safety practices to ensure a secure and healthy working environment. Employees in South Dakota can reach out to the South Dakota Department of Labor & Regulation for more guidance on workplace safety concerns.

In conclusion, workplace safety in South Dakota is a collaborative effort between federal regulations, state-specific laws, and proactive measures taken by employers and employees. By understanding and adhering to these regulations, workplaces in South Dakota can help protect their workforce and create productive, safe working conditions.