Alaska Labor and Employment Laws

Labor and employment laws play an important part of a civilized society. uring his introduction of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) of 1935, Senator Robert Wagner once said, “Democracy cannot work unless it is honored in the factory as well as the polling booth; men cannot truly be free in body and spirit unless their freedom extends into places where they earn their daily bread.” 

This declaration captures the essence of the various labor laws enacted during the past century. In a democracy, the principles of equality and the rule of law must be upheld, even in private contracts.

Therefore, whether you are an ordinary employee working for a Alaska-based employer who wants to know what rights you are entitled to as an employee, or an HR professional or a legal counsel tasked to ensure that the Alaska-based employer you are working for is compliant with labor laws to prevent exposing said employers to potential liabilities, learning about labor laws is essential. This article aims to provide you with an overview of labor laws in general, as well as laws enacted by the state of Delaware in particular. This article also provides the importance and purpose of these laws, and some frequently asked questions (FAQs).

What are the Labor Laws in Alaska?

Alaska employment law is a collection of state and federal labor laws. These laws include provisions for wage payment, minimum wage, child labor, and prevailing wages for state-funded construction projects.

Why are Labor Laws Important?

Boone (2015) noted that throughout the early 1900s, working conditions for the average American worker were fairly grim. Child labor was widespread, discrimination in the workplace was normalized, and working conditions were hazardous due to lack of safety regulations. Additionally, unions did not have sufficient protections from the federal government, which made it difficult for workers’ unions to bargain for improved working conditions. Thanks to social and legal shifts throughout the years, labor laws have created better conditions and rights for the American worker. 

Nonetheless, most employers today still exercise tremendous bargaining power over employees, especially at this time when employees’ collective power has dwindled over the years, with union density sitting at around 6.2% percent in the private sector.

Because of this unequal bargaining power, employers are known to have monopsony power. This means employers operate as wage setters rather than wage takers in the employment bargain. As a result, employers will tend to hire fewer workers (thereby leading to either under-employment or worse, unemployment) and those workers suffer lower pay and benefits as well as worse working conditions. Fewer workers also means that employers produce less output and can charge higher prices that harm consumers. Finally,  monopsony power also reduces economic productivity because employers are not competing over wages to lure workers into jobs that are the best match for their productivity and skills.

That is where labor laws come in. Over the course of the 20th century, federal and state laws have been enacted to address this problem of inequality of bargaining power. The aim of these federal laws are to provide social and economic rights for workers, with state laws going beyond such minimum rights by providing expanded rights and protections.

What is the Purpose of the Labor Law

Therefore, the primary purpose of labor law is to minimize, if not eliminate, the negative effects arising from the unequal power wielded by employers, and the inequality of bargaining power between employers and employees. Labor laws impose certain legal requirements on employers which cannot be the subject to negotiation or bargaining with employees. This means that since these requirements are imposed by law, employers have no choice but to comply or face possible civil and/or criminal sanctions from the government.

What is an example of Labor Law in Alaska?

One type of labor law that aims to temper the monopsony power of employers are those that prescribe minimum standards for benefits. An example of this is the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which requires employers to pay at least the federal minimum wage and overtime pay of 1.5x the regular rate of pay. FLSA also deals with how work hours are computed.

Another type of labor law that addresses monopsony power are those that impose minimum safety and health conditions in the workplace. An example of this is the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), which imposes on employers the general duty to provide their employees with a workplace free from recognized, serious hazards.

Labor law also governs workers’ compensation laws, which requires employers to pay compensation and medical benefits to employees who suffer work-related injuries or death. An example of this type of law is the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act (FECA), which pays compensation for the disability or death of a federal employee resulting from personal injury sustained while in the performance of duty.

There are also labor laws that aim to regulate the benefits that employees are offered as a way to ensure that the employee’s interests are being considered., There are even laws that impose upon employers the obligation to provide additional benefits to employees that go beyond their usual salary. Examples of these types of laws are the federal Employment Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), which regulates employers who offer pension or welfare benefit plans for employees, and the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which requires employers to give unpaid but job-protected leaves to employees who need to attend to the birth or adoption of a child, or for the serious illness of the employee or their family member.

What are Rights of Employees in Alaska?

The following are some of the rights of employees in Alaska, as provided under Alaska employment law and federal law:

  • Right to minimum wage
  • Right to a safe workplace
  • Right to health coverage
  • Right to social security
  • Right to unemployment benefits
  • Right to protection against discrimination
  • Right to family leave

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Does Alaska employment law require meal breaks?

There are no required meal breaks for employees under Alaska labor law. An exception to this would be for minor employees aged 14-17, who are entitled to a 30-minute uninterrupted meal break for every five hours or more of work. 

However, federal law requires that short rest periods of 20 minutes or less must be compensated and counted as hours worked. 

2. What is the law on minimum wage in Alaska?

The minimum wage in Alaska is $10.34 per hour, which is higher than the federal rate of $7.25 per hour. Public school drivers must be paid at least twice the minimum wage, excluding fringe benefits. 

While some states allow for a lower minimum wage or tip credit for employers with tipped employees, this is not the case in Alaska. No matter how much an employee makes in tips, they are still entitled to the same minimum wage of $10.34 per hour. 

3. Can an employer fire an employee without cause in Alaska?

Generally, Alaska labor laws on termination of employment follow the doctrine of “employment at will.” This means that both the employer or employee may end the employment contract at any time, for any reason, or without reason. However, state and federal laws still provide protections against unjust termination. Therefore, an employee may still sue their employer for wrongful discharge. 

Retaliatory termination, for example, is illegal and may be grounds for a wrongful termination suit. An employer may not terminate an employee for whistleblowing or reporting unsafe or illegal conditions or procedures at the workplace, regardless of the truth or falsity of the report. 

4. What is the law in Alaska when it comes to discrimination?

Employers in Alaska are prohibited from all acts of discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, or sex. Thus, termination of employment based on these grounds may also be grounds for a wrongful discharge suit. Discrimination on the basis of age, disability, sex, pregnancy, parenthood, and marital status are also prohibited in most circumstances. The only exception is when the job reasonably demands an employer to make a valid distinction based on these characteristics.

5. How is overtime pay computed in Alaska?

A non-exempt employee is entitled to overtime pay of 1.5x their regular rate for hours worked in excess of 8 hours per day or 40 hours per week. Only employers with 4 employees or more are required to pay overtime.

An employee may only claim overtime pay once for a specific period. For example, if an employee has worked 10 hours on Monday and 32 hours for the rest of the week (a total of 42 hours for the week), their two hours of overtime on Monday will only be counted once, for purposes of calculating overtime pay. They can no longer count those 2 hours as part of the excess hours worked per week. 

On the other hand, if an employee worked 10 hours on Monday and 30 hours for the rest of the week (a total of 40 hours for the week), they are still qualified to claim overtime pay for the 2 hours worked in excess of 8 hours on Monday, even if they only worked a total of 40 hours for that week.

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