Compliance Watch:
Penalties for Breaking Oklahoma Labor Laws

April 11th 2024

The penalties for breaking labor laws in Oklahoma are no laughing matter. They can have a significant impact on your bottom line and business reputation. You could face fines, legal actions, injunctions, and even criminal charges, depending on the severity and nature of the violation. Now more than ever, it’s important that you stay informed about the Oklahoma legal landscape and start building a strong foundation for compliance.

In this article, we will explore the key labor laws in Oklahoma and shed light on the penalties employers may face for non-compliance. By gaining a comprehensive understanding of these laws, you can take proactive steps to mitigate risks, protect your business interests, and foster a workplace culture that values compliance and the well-being of your employees.

This Article Covers

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

Most Common Labor Law Violations in Oklahoma

Labor laws in Oklahoma are designed to protect the rights and well-being of workers. These laws establish wage standards, working conditions, overtime, and other employment-related matters. Unfortunately, like in any state, there are instances where employers violate these laws, resulting in labor law violations. Some of the most common labor law violations in Oklahoma include:

  • Violations of Workplace Safety Standards: Oklahoma employers must comply with federal and state workplace safety standards. Violating these standards can result in accidents, injuries, and even fatalities. In fact, according to a 2020 survey by the Oklahoma Department of Labor’s Statistics Division, in collaboration with the US Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 18,900 work-related injury and illness cases from the Oklahoma private sector.
  • Unpaid overtime: Another prevalent labor law violation in Oklahoma is the failure to properly compensate employees for overtime work. An independent study conducted by the California law firm Bisnar Chase found that Oklahoma workers are owed over $2.2 billion in unpaid overtime wages. The study surveyed 3,000 workers nationwide and showed that, on average, Oklahoma employees in the private sector worked 2.8 hours of unpaid overtime per week in 2022.
  • Workplace Discrimination: Employers are not allowed to discriminate against employees based on protected characteristics, such as race, color, sex, religion, national origin, age, disability, or genetic information. But there are still several cases of workplace discrimination reported in the state. Workplace discrimination can manifest in various forms, including discriminatory hiring or firing practices, unequal pay or benefits, denial of promotions or training opportunities, and creating a hostile work environment.

Penalties for Breaking Oklahoma Labor Laws

Oklahoma Minimum Wage Act

Oklahoma remains one of 20 states that follows the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. The state currently has no plans to change this minimum wage for the upcoming year.

Some employees in Oklahoma may be paid less than the minimum wage, known as the subminimum wage. For example, tipped employees who get more than $30 in monthly tips can be paid a lower $2.13 per hour. But this is under the condition that their tips plus the subminimum wage equals at least the federal minimum wage.

Other exemptions to the Oklahoma minimum wage under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) include:

  • Executive, administrative, and professional employees who earn not less than $684 a week
  • Computer employees who earn more than $684 weekly or $27.63 hourly
  • High-earning employees who get paid more than $107,432 yearly
  • Farm workers
  • Employees in fishing industries
  • Seasonal and recreational workers
Penalty for Violation

Suppose a court determines that an employer has not paid the full wages owed. In that case, the employer is responsible for double the unpaid wages, excluding any amount already paid to the worker.

The employer is also responsible for covering court expenses and reasonable attorney fees of at least $100. It’s important to note that the employer cannot justify paying less than the legal wage by claiming an agreement with the worker. According to the law, an employer who pays or agrees to pay less than the legal wage is committing a misdemeanor. The penalties can include a maximum fine of $500, a jail term of up to six (6) months, or both.

Child Labor Laws

According to state Child Labor Laws, students in Oklahoma aged 14 and 15 must acquire a work permit, also called an employment certificate, before engaging in employment or work-based learning. The school’s principal, headmaster, or equivalent administrative officer must approve these work permits.

In an effort to protect minor employees, Oklahoma has placed restrictions on the hours that children are allowed to work, as well as the kind of jobs they can work in. Students aged 14 and 15 can only work for a maximum of 18 hours per school week. They are also entitled to a one-hour rest period for every eight consecutive hours worked or a 30-minute rest period for every five consecutive hours worked.

For safety, minors under 16 cannot work in specific industries such as manufacturing, mining, operating machinery, and transportation services. Additionally, they cannot be employed in warehousing, public utilities, communications, or demolition.

Penalty for Violation

Anyone found willfully violating the provisions of Oklahoma’s Child Labor Laws will be charged with a misdemeanor. Upon conviction, each offense carries a penalty of a fine up to $500, imprisonment ranging from 10 to 30 days, or both fine and imprisonment.

Oklahoma Anti-Discrimination Act

In Oklahoma, employers are prohibited from discriminating based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, genetic information, or disability. However, if an employer can prove that accommodating a disability would excessively burden their business operations, they may be exempted from this requirement.

The Oklahoma Anti-Discrimination Act disallows discrimination in all aspects of employment, such as hiring, promotion, pay, benefits, discipline, and termination. It also encompasses harassment based on these protected characteristics, including sexual harassment involving requests for sexual favors in exchange for job-related benefits or threats of negative consequences for rejecting such requests.

Retaliation against individuals who oppose discriminatory practices or participate in investigations or proceedings related to discrimination is also considered illegal.

Penalty for Violation

A discrimination claim can be filed either with the state administrative agency, the Oklahoma Human Rights Commission (OHRC), or the federal administrative agency, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Generally, penalties may include compensatory damages covering losses such as lost wages, benefits, and emotional distress. And in cases where the employer’s conduct is particularly severe or intentional, punitive damages or injunctive relief may also be imposed.

Family Medical Leave Act

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a crucial federal law regulating work time off. It allows eligible employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for specific family and medical reasons, including childbirth, adoption, or caring for a seriously ill family member. This leave renews every 12 months if the employee remains eligible.

FMLA also mandates employers to continue providing health benefits during the leave and reinstate employees to their previous or equivalent positions when they return to work.

Penalty for Violation

The administration and enforcement of the FMLA for private, state, and local government employees and certain federal employees are carried out by the Wage and Hour Division. In cases where violations cannot be resolved satisfactorily, the US Department of Labor may initiate legal action to ensure compliance.

If the court rules in favor of the complainant, employers may be ordered to grant FMLA leave and provide monetary damages, including attorney fees and court costs, to the complainant.

FLSA Overtime Laws

Oklahoma has no state law governing overtime. Instead, it follows the overtime regulations set by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is an important federal law that regulates time management, establishes hourly wage rates and overtime pay, and mandates accurate recordkeeping of employees’ working hours. Overtime pay is set at 1.5 times the regular hourly rate for employees who work more than 40 hours per week. However, some job categories, such as executives, administrative employees, and commissioned outside sales employees, may be exempt from overtime pay based on their job description and salary.

Penalty for Violation

Employers who willfully or repeatedly violate the overtime pay requirements established by FLSA are subject to a civil money penalty of up to $1,000 for each such violation.

Not paying an employee the correct wage is also considered a misdemeanor in the state of Oklahoma. This can result in up to 6 months in prison and fines of up to $5,000. If additional wages are owed, a 10% penalty will be applied.

Oklahoma Occupational Health and Safety Standards Act

The Oklahoma Occupational Health and Safety Standards Act follows federal Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) standards. This Act requires employers to provide their employees with a safe and hazard-free workplace, free from known dangers that can cause severe harm or even death.

It is also mandatory for public employers to allow their employees to participate in training and education programs. Oklahoma Department of Labor inspectors can enter and inspect workplaces without prior notice to investigate compliance with state law.

Public sector workers in Oklahoma, on the other hand, are covered by Public Employees Occupational Safety and Health (PEOSH), which focuses on reducing workplace fatalities and enhancing working conditions. PEOSH provides training, outreach activities, and support in establishing state regulations.

Penalty for Violation

The Attorney General can take legal action against those who violate the Oklahoma Occupational Health and Safety Standards Act or any orders issued by the Commissioner of Labor. Public employers or political subdivisions that fail to comply may face misdemeanor charges and cease and desist orders. Each day of violation is considered a separate offense.

The Commissioner of Labor may also issue administrative fines, depending on the severity of the violation. The following schedule of fines shall apply on a per-violation, per-day basis:

  1. Serious: up to $1,000.00
  2. Other than serious: up to $500.00
  3. Willful: up to $5,000.00
  4. Repeated: up to $5,000.00
  5. Regulatory: up to $500.00

Whistleblower Laws

Whistleblower laws shield employees from reprisals when they report unlawful or unethical behavior. In the context of OSHA, it is deemed discriminatory if an employer responds negatively to an employee who reports violations or unsafe conditions.

The Oklahoma Whistleblower Act, on the other hand, safeguards state employees who disclose improper governmental activities, ensuring they can do so without fear of retaliation. State employees are free to report violations, authority abuse, financial waste, or discuss agency operations without facing adverse consequences. Employees who feel wronged have 60 days to appeal to the Oklahoma Merit Protection Commission.

Penalty for Violation

The violator may face suspension without pay, demotion, or discharge, along with a probationary period of 6 months. In cases of deliberate and knowing violations, the court can remove them from their position and disqualify them from appointment or employment for a period ranging from 1 to 5 years.

Recordkeeping Laws

Oklahoma employers must comply with federal regulations on retaining employment records. According to the Fair Labor Standards Act, specific records of non-exempt workers should be kept for at least three years. These records include personal employee information (name, address, birthday if under 19), occupation, daily and weekly hours worked, the start of the workweek, wage details, overtime earnings, deductions, payment information, and so on.

Penalty for Violation

Failure to maintain the required records under the FLSA can result in penalties. While the Department of Labor cannot levy civil fines for recordkeeping violations, intentional violators may face criminal consequences. Criminal sanctions may include fines up to $10,000, imprisonment for up to six months, or both.

How You Can Avoid Violating Oklahoma Labor Laws

From small businesses to large corporations, understanding and adhering to key Oklahoma labor laws is crucial to protect you from the penalties we just covered. To further safeguard your business and maintain a positive relationship with your workforce, here are some proactive measures you can take:

Familiarize Yourself with Key Oklahoma Labor Laws

To start, it’s crucial to have a solid understanding of the fundamental labor laws in Oklahoma. This includes the Oklahoma Minimum Wage Act, which establishes the minimum wage rate for employees, and OSHA, which outlines regulations for protecting employees from hazards in the workplace. Make sure you’re familiar with these laws, as well as other relevant state and federal regulations.

Establish Clear Employment Policies

Clear employment policies and procedures are essential for complying with labor laws. Include details about wages, overtime, leave, anti-discrimination, and other relevant regulations in your company handbook or contracts. Regularly review and update these policies to align with any changes in labor laws.

Comply with Wage and Hour Laws

Failing to pay your employees fairly can be the root of more serious workplace disputes.

Oklahoma has specific laws regarding minimum wage and overtime pay. Currently, the minimum wage in Oklahoma is $7.25 per hour but always check for any updates or changes to this rate. Additionally, non-exempt employees who work more than 40 hours a week are entitled to overtime pay at 1.5 times their regular pay rate. Accurately record your employees’ working hours to ensure you pay them accordingly.

Keep Accurate Records

Accurate records are your golden ticket to compliance. Not only are they a legal requirement but they can also save the day if you ever find yourself in a labor dispute. A great way to streamline this process is by using reliable time-tracking software. These tools can help you effortlessly record all work hours, breaks, and overtime, leaving no room for errors or disputes.

Understand Child Labor Restrictions

If you employ individuals under the age of 18, it’s vital to adhere to Oklahoma’s child labor laws. These laws limit the type of work, hours, and conditions in which minors can be employed. It’s crucial to understand and comply with these restrictions to protect the well-being of young workers.

Stay Updated with Changes in Labor Laws

Labor laws can change over time, so staying informed about any updates or amendments is essential. Regularly review government resources, consult with legal professionals, or subscribe to reliable sources of information to ensure you stay up-to-date with Oklahoma’s latest labor law developments. This will help you proactively adjust your practices and policies to remain compliant.

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.

Learn more about Oklahoma Labor Laws through our detailed guide.