Compliance Watch:
Penalties for Breaking Georgia Labor Laws

April 9th 2024

In Georgia, fair and respectful treatment of employees is a top priority. To achieve this, the state has established a comprehensive set of labor laws covering essential employment aspects, such as minimum wage, overtime pay, workplace safety, and discrimination prevention. These laws create a framework for ethical business practices and strive to level the playing field for both employers and employees.

However, there are instances where employers may unintentionally or intentionally fail to comply with these regulations. In such cases, Georgia has implemented a system of penalties to ensure accountability. This guide aims to shed light on the potential consequences employers may face if they violate labor laws. We will also provide you with practical strategies to help you navigate labor laws effectively and prevent penalties altogether. After all, prevention is better than cure!

This Article Covers

Most Common Labor Law Violations in Georgia
Penalties for Breaking Georgia Labor Laws
How You Can Avoid Violating Georgia Labor Laws

Most Common Labor Law Violations in Georgia

Labor laws are designed to protect the rights and well-being of employees in the workplace. Unfortunately, violations of these laws still occur in various industries and can have detrimental effects on workers. In Georgia, similar to other states, certain labor law violations are more prevalent than others. Here is a list of some of the most common labor law violations in Georgia:

  • Not paying at least the $7.25 minimum wage: This remains one of Georgia’s most prevalent labor law violations. Minimum wage violations deprive workers of their rightful compensation for their time and effort. According to an analysis by the Economic Policy Institute, Georgia workers lose a total of $301,000,000 in annual wages because of minimum wage violations.
  • Employee misclassification: Misclassifying workers as independent contractors can save employers up to 30 percent on payroll taxes and related expenses that would have been paid for regular employees. But this illegal practice deprives workers of essential benefits and proper compensation. In 2015, the Georgia Department of Labor audited 1,700 businesses and found over 4,000 misclassified employees.
  • Off-the-Clock Work: One of the most common forms of wage theft in Georgia is Off-The-Clock Work. This happens when employers require employees to work before or after their scheduled shifts without compensation. Data from a report by the Fair Labor Platform showed that 75% of the employees in Georgia indicated that they had been forced to perform unpaid, off-the-clock work in the past year.
  • Workplace discrimination: Discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, or other protected characteristics is strictly prohibited by federal and state laws. This includes unfair treatment in hiring, promotion, pay, and termination decisions, as well as creating a hostile work environment.

Penalties for Breaking Georgia Labor Laws

Penalties for breaking Georgia labor laws can vary depending on the nature and severity of the violation. They may include fines, restitution for affected employees, potential loss of business licenses, and, in severe cases, criminal charges. Here’s a look at the key labor laws that govern businesses in the state and the penalties that come with breaking them:

Georgia Fair Employment Practices Act of 1978

The Georgia Fair Employment Practices Act prevents discrimination based on race, color, disability, religion, sex, national origin, or age. This law applies to state agencies with 15 or more employees and is strongly based on Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 and its amendments.

Under the general unlawful practices outlined in the Act, it is prohibited to discriminate against individuals regarding their compensation, terms, or privileges of employment. Employers also cannot hire, promote, or discriminate solely based on protected characteristics.

Certain cities, like Atlanta, have their local ordinances prohibiting discrimination. However, all Georgia residents are protected by federal laws enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Penalty for Violation

Remedies for Georgia Fair Employment Practices Act violations will vary depending on the severity, they can be civil or criminal, but criminal penalties are more uncommon. Civil remedies may include back pay, liquidated damages, injunctive relief (such as a promotion for the plaintiff), attorney’s fees, and costs. In certain instances, courts may allow front pay instead of injunctive relief.

An employee who has been discriminated against has 180 days to file a complaint about the alleged unlawful practice.

Georgia Minimum Wage Law

Georgia’s state minimum wage is currently set at $5.15 per hour. Regardless of being an individual, partnership, or corporation, every employer must pay their covered employees a minimum wage of at least $5.15 per hour for all hours worked.

The state minimum wage, however, doesn’t apply to:

  • Employers with annual sales of $40,000.00 or less.
  • Employers with five or fewer employees.
  • Employers of domestic workers.
  • Farm owners, sharecroppers, or land renters who are employers.
  • Employees who receive gratuities as part or all of their compensation.
  • High school or college students who are employees.
  • Individuals employed as newspaper carriers.
  • Individuals employed by nonprofit child-caring institutions or long-term care facilities serving children or mentally disabled adults who meet specific criteria related to residence, board, lodging, and cash compensation of at least $10,000.00 annually.

For these types of employment, the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour will apply.

Tipped employees in the state are subject to a different federal minimum wage of $2.13 per hour instead of the state minimum wage. However, it’s important to remember that tipped workers must earn a total of at least $7.25 per hour, minimum wage plus tips. If the total falls short, their employer must make up the difference.

Penalty for Violation

Suppose an employer pays an employee less than the minimum wage stated in Georgia’s Minimum Wage Law. In that case, the employee has the right to file a civil action in a superior court within three years to recover the difference between the amount paid and the minimum wage.

Additionally, the employee may receive an additional amount equal to the original claim as liquidated damages, along with costs and reasonable attorney’s fees determined by the court. Any contract, agreement, or employee acceptance of a lower wage will not prevent the action.

Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) Overtime Laws

Georgia does not have specific state labor laws regarding overtime pay, so federal regulations apply. The FLSA is a significant federal law that governs various aspects of employment, including setting minimum wage rates, determining overtime pay, and mandating accurate recordkeeping of employees’ working hours. Certain job categories, such as executives, professionals, and administrative employees, may be exempt from receiving overtime pay based on their job duties and salary.

It’s important to note that the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not require overtime pay for weekends, holidays, or regular days off. The FLSA also mandates that employers keep accurate records of an employee’s work time.

Learn more in detail about Georgia Overtime Laws.

Penalty for Violation

If the employer violates the FLSA by not paying the correct wages, the employee can recover the unpaid wages and receive liquidated damages as a penalty against the employer. Employers can also be subject to a civil penalty of up to $1,000 for each violation.

Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

The FMLA is a crucial federal law that regulates time off from work. It grants eligible employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for certain family and medical situations, like the arrival of a new child or tending to a family member’s serious health condition.

This law also mandates that employers continue providing health benefits to employees during their leave and reinstate them to their previous or comparable positions when they return to work.

Penalty for Violation

The Wage and Hour Division is entrusted with administering and enforcing the FMLA for private, state, and local government employees and select federal employees. If violations cannot be satisfactorily resolved, the US Department of Labor can initiate legal proceedings to compel compliance. Should the court rule favorably for the complainant, employers may be mandated to grant the requested FMLA leave and provide monetary restitution.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration Laws (OSHA)

Georgia does not have its own separate OSHA regulations. Instead, the state follows the federal guidelines set by OSHA. These guidelines protect the majority of private-sector employees and certain public-sector workers.

In Georgia, workers are required to undergo safety training specific to their job roles as outlined by OSHA regulations. This training aims to familiarize workers with the potential hazards associated with their work. Additionally, OSHA offers Outreach Training Programs to workers in Georgia to further enhance their safety knowledge and skills.

OSHA regulations encompass various standards, including:

  • Fall protection
  • Respiratory protection
  • Ladder safety
  • Hazard communication
  • Scaffolding
  • Control of hazardous energy, and so on.

OSHA also mandates that all employers adhere to the General Duty Clause stated in the OSHA Act of 1970. This clause obligates employers to establish a hazard-free workplace that avoids risks leading to severe harm or death for their employees. Employees are required to comply with occupational safety and health standards.

Penalty for Violation

These are the maximum penalty amounts, adjusted annually for inflation, that can be imposed on violators:

Type of Violation Penalty



Posting Requirements

$15,625 per violation
Failure to Abate $15,625 per day beyond the abatement date
Willful or Repeated $156,259 per violation

Georgia Whistleblower Protection Act

The Georgia Whistleblower Protection Act safeguards employees who report fraud, waste, or abuse. It applies to public employers and prohibits retaliation against public employees in Georgia who reveal violations of laws, rules, or regulations.

According to Georgia law, public employers and government entities that receive state funds must investigate complaints from public employees regarding fraud, abuse, or waste under their supervision. The whistleblower’s identity should only be disclosed if deemed necessary by the employer, and the employee must be notified in writing at least one week in advance.

Penalty for Violation

Depending on the violation, an employee who has been discriminated against because of whistleblowing can obtain the following relief:

  • Job Reinstatement
  • Back Pay
  • Compensatory Damages
  • Attorney and Court Fees

Recordkeeping Laws

Numerous federal and state laws and regulations govern recordkeeping and retention in the state of Georgia. But in general, Georgia law requires employers to keep certain records for four years.

These records should consist of personal employee information such as their name, address, and social security number. It should also include details about employment, including date of hire, work location, hours worked, pay period dates, quarterly wages, pay period earnings, and leave days.

If you want to get rid of old employee records, it’s best to consult with your attorney to ensure you’re not getting rid of anything important. There are also federal regulations dictating how these records should be disposed of.

Penalty for Violation

Violations of recordkeeping laws can lead to various penalties, including fines, legal repercussions, and potential civil liability. Although the Department of Labor is not authorized to levy civil monetary penalties for recordkeeping noncompliance, individuals who deliberately violate the law may be subject to criminal sanctions. These sanctions can include fines of up to $10,000, imprisonment for a maximum of six months, or both.

Georgia Child Labor Laws

Georgia law imposes significant limitations on the employment of minors, particularly regarding the types of occupations they can engage in. According to OCGA §§ 39-2-1 et seq, individuals under 16 are prohibited from working in hazardous occupations such as mills, factories, laundries, manufacturing establishments, workshops, and so on.

Minors under 16 also have specific limitations on their working hours. On a school day, they are allowed to work for a maximum of 4 hours, while on non-school days, they can work up to 8 hours. During school breaks or when school is not in session, they can work up to 40 hours. Additionally, unless they have completed high school or obtained permission from the board of education, they are not permitted to work during school hours.

Penalty for Violation

If someone, a company, or their representative violates the rules outlined by Georgia Child Labor Laws, they will be charged with a misdemeanor. According to Georgia statute OCGA §17-10-3, misdemeanors carry penalties of a fine up to $1,000, imprisonment for a maximum of 12 months, or both.

How You Can Avoid Violating Georgia Labor Laws

Tip #1 Familiarize Yourself with Georgia Labor Laws

The first step to compliance is to familiarize yourself with Georgia labor laws. You need to know the laws covering minimum wage, overtime, meal and rest breaks, recordkeeping requirements, child labor regulations, etc. Take the time to understand the specific laws that apply to your business and industry. This guide is a good place to start.

Tip #2 Classify Employees Correctly

Different classifications, such as full-time, part-time, and independent contractors, have distinct implications for minimum wage, overtime eligibility, and benefits. Ensure that you accurately classify your employees based on their job duties and responsibilities, referring to the guidelines provided by the Department of Labor.

Intentional employee misclassification is illegal and can also be considered wage theft, leading to heavier penalties that no one wants to deal with.

Tip #3 Pay Employees in Compliance with Wage Laws

Georgia has set its own minimum wage, but for most employees, the federal minimum wage applies. This can get confusing so it’s best to get to know which minimum wage applies to your business.

You also need to keep an eye out for changes or updates to the minimum wage, as these can be adjusted to meet factors like inflation. You want to pay your workers fairly, not only for compliance but also to foster a fair and healthy workplace.

Tip #4 Keep Accurate Records

Maintaining accurate records is crucial for compliance with Georgia labor laws. Keep detailed records of employee information, wages, hours worked, overtime, and other relevant employment data. Accurate recordkeeping not only ensures compliance but also helps protect your business in case of any disputes or audits.

It’s best to use time-tracking software to aid in your recordkeeping efforts. These tools can automate the recording of employee work hours and eliminate the risk of errors or fraudulent time entries.

Tip #5 Stay Informed and Seek Professional Advice

Labor laws can change over time, so it’s important to stay informed about any updates or amendments to Georgia labor laws. Regularly review reliable sources of information such as government websites or consult with legal professionals or HR experts to ensure ongoing compliance.

Important Cautionary Note

This content is provided for informational purposes only. While we make every effort to ensure the accuracy of the information presented, we cannot guarantee that it is free of errors or omissions. Users are advised to independently verify any critical information and should not solely rely on the content provided.