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Kentucky Employment and Labor Laws

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Kentucky employment and labor laws generally favor employers when it comes to employment termination, with some limited exemptions. At the same time, the Bluegrass State has been taking steps to aid businesses by developing a globally competitive workforce through various developmental programs. Some of these efforts include investing in skills training, promoting manufacturing careers, and enabling work-ready communities. These programs are good news for the working population, as they now have government support to nurture their careers and overcome work-related challenges.

Hence, employees must have a basic grasp of work-related laws and equip themselves with relevant work skills. As a start, it is important to distinguish between employment and labor laws. Employment law governs the relationship between employers and employees. It is different from labor laws due to the added element of labor union coverage.

Overall, according to Oxfam, Kentucky can be found in the middle when it comes to having worker protection policies in place. It is worth noting that the state has stepped up to make sure that federal laws in certain areas of employee protection are stringently implemented. These include small employer obligations for health care continuation coverage and leaves for volunteer emergency responders.

The following sections give a summary of some of the important employment and labor laws in the state. 

Kentucky Wage and Hour Laws

Minimum Wage

The minimum wage per hour in Kentucky is $7.25, the same as the federal requirement. Currently, the Kentucky Employment and Labor Laws follow federal guidelines regarding increases to the minimum wage limit. Tip-earning employees can earn lower rates of at least $2.13 per hour if their total hourly earnings reach $7.25. 

Overtime

Employees who render overtime (i.e., work for more than 40 hours) must be paid at a rate of 1.5 times their regular pay. Those who work a seven-day workweek must also be paid the 1.5 overtime rate on the seventh day. However, overtime pay will not be typically given to employees who work on holidays, Saturdays, Sundays, and rest days. It must only be given if the total workweek hours exceed 40 hours. 

Exemptions from overtime pay rules include employees such as:

  • Restaurant and hotel operational employees;

  • Retail store operational employees;

  • Taxi drivers, salespersons, and seafarers;

  • Certain salaried employees;

  • Residential caregivers working in certain childcare facilities;

  • In-home caregivers of sick people.

Wage Payment

Kentucky requires employees to be paid semi-monthly, with no more than 18 days in between pay periods. Additionally, employers should not withhold wages for reasons such as:

  • Personal fines;

  • Shortages in a cash box shared by two or more employees;

  • Sales losses from workmanship defects, customer non-payment, and other related scenarios not willfully caused by employees;

  • Property damage;

  • Bad checks, if employees are given the discretion to reject or accept checks.

Employees who are terminated from or voluntarily terminate their employment must be paid their last salary promptly. It must be given no later than the upcoming pay period or within 14 days from the last day of employment. 

Allowable Deductions

As mentioned above, there are some exceptions to the prohibition of withholding wages. 

Employers can make wage deductions in compliance with federal, state, or local laws and as agreed in the written employment contract. Such can be:

  • Insurance premiums;

  • Medical dues;

  • Due taxes;

  • Garnishments for child support and creditor liens. 

It is unlawful for employers to require employees to pay for medical examinations required as a condition of employment. 

Meal and Rest Breaks

Employers must reasonably provide employees with meal breaks in the middle of their working shifts. However, this rule may not be applied should a collective bargaining arrangement exist. 

In addition, employees should be allowed to rest for at least 10 minutes every four hours worked. All these laws apply to employees except those under the Federal Railway Labor Act. 

Family and Medical Leave

Kentucky employment and labor laws do not have state-specific provisions but instead, follow the Family and Medical Leave Act. Under these federal guidelines, employers with 50 or more employees must provide 12 hours of leave for various valid reasons, such as:

  • Caring for a sick family member;

  • Recuperating from a serious health condition;

  • Qualifying exigencies arising out of any family member’s active military duty;

  • Caring for a newborn or bonding with a newly adopted child.

In addition to FMLA regulations, each employer must approve these state-required leaves for employees:

  • Jury and other court-related duties;

  • Time off to vote;

  • Military duty;

  • Emergency responder duty.

Kentucky Workplace Safety Laws

Private sector companies and local and state government agencies must abide by the Division of Occupational Safety and Health Compliance’s Kentucky State Plan. The State Plan comprises workplace safety and health programs designed to protect Kentucky workers from job-related illnesses, injuries, and deaths. 

Employers are required to keep workplaces free from hazards and provide informational campaigns and safety training. They must also promptly report to OSHA any fatalities and certain injury cases and set up proper record-keeping systems. If in violation, they can be penalized by up to $7,000, subject to daily increments if no corrections are made accordingly. Willful violations can result in a fine of $70,000 or more. 

Employees must comply with OSHA-related standards and rules that are designed for their benefit. 

Kentucky Workplace Posters

Certain posters and notices must be placed in conspicuous areas in the workplace. These notices are for matters such as:

  • Wage and Hour Laws;

  • Child Labor;

  • Wage Discrimination;

  • Safety and Health on the Job.

In addition, two posters are mandatory for employers in the Commonwealth: the Unemployment Insurance Benefits and the Kentucky Equal Employment Opportunity posters. 

Kentucky Discrimination Laws

The Kentucky Civil Rights Act prohibits employment discrimination of an individual based on the following:

  • Race;

  • Color;

  • National origin;

  • Sex;

  • Religion;

  • Disability;

  • Age (for those 40 and above).

The said law applies to private companies and public agencies with eight or more employees. The disability law applies to those with 15 or more employees. 

Furthermore, the Kentucky Equal Pay Law prohibits employee pay discrimination on the basis of sex for comparable jobs. 

There should also be no discrimination based on employment terms because an individual is a smoker or a non-smoker. Employers, however, have the right to incentivize employee participation in smoking cessation programs. 

Kentucky Workplace Harassment Laws

Employment discrimination can take the form of harassment, which is unlawful if the discriminatory practice becomes a condition of employment. It is also unlawful if such practice becomes pervasive enough that workplace conditions become hostile.

Sexual harassment is a specific form of discrimination targeted at the opposite sex. It can take the form of a request for sexual favors or unwelcome sexual advances. Harassment may not also be sexual; offensive remarks about a person’s sex are also considered unlawful. 

Employers can be liable for the discriminatory actions of their clients and certain employees, such as supervisors. This applies in cases where the discriminatory action leads to adverse consequences such as employee termination, demotion, or pay reduction.

Kentucky Labor Union Laws

Labor unions are employee-organized groups that seek to improve their salary, work conditions, and benefits. Kentucky Labor Union Laws grant employees the right to form such a group and exercise their rights through peaceful strikes. These laws, meanwhile, bar public employees from individually or collectively engaging in strikes and stopping work. 

Kentucky is the 27th state to have enacted right-to-work statutes based on union laws. Under these statutes, any employee cannot be compelled to join a labor organization and pay related dues. This also holds true in unionized workplaces. Employers cannot coerce or restrain any employee from joining labor organizations as a condition of employment. 

Complaints on violations of right-to-work statutes are investigated by the Office of the Secretary of the Kentucky Labor Cabinet. The office may initiate a criminal case against the violator through the local prosecutor’s office. 

Is Kentucky an At-Will Employment State?

Yes, Kentucky follows an at-will employment doctrine. This means an employer may terminate an employee without any reason or notice. Similarly, an employee can quit their job as long as they do not violate their employment contract and collective bargaining agreements. Both the employer and employee may avoid at-will employment arrangements by agreeing to a contract clearly stating it is only terminable by just cause. 

Certain cases are exempt from the at-will employment doctrine, such as when the termination violates basic fundamental rights. Case examples would be when an employee is fired for refusing to do something illegal or for discriminatory actions.

What Qualifies as Wrongful Termination in Kentucky?

Many cases of wrongful termination are based on discriminatory practices, such as terminating the employee for:

  • Having a medical condition;

  • Getting pregnant;

  • Taking a leave to care for a sick family member;

  • Being a member of a labor union;

  • Sporting a race-linked hairstyle;

  • Identifying as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community;

  • Filing a worker’s compensation claim.

Firing an employee for reporting workplace misconduct, illegal activities, and unsafe work conditions is also illegal. 

However, Kentucky’s whistleblower laws apply only to public employees. Whistleblowers in the private sector can seek protection from federal laws such as the False Claims Act and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002. 

It is also unlawful if discharging the employee violates an implied or verbal employment contract. Factors that courts look into, like the longevity of employment and promotions, may be evidence that such an employment contract existed.   

In Kentucky, however, it is lawful for employers to terminate an employee due to:

  • Workforce cutbacks;

  • Business bankruptcy;

  • Weak performance;

  • Mass layoff.

How Do You Report an Employer in Kentucky for Wrongful Termination?

It depends on the reasons for termination. If you were fired due to discriminatory reasons, you can report your employer to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. To initiate the reporting, first submit an inquiry to have your case assessed. 

You can use the EEOC Public Portal to schedule an inquiry session via phone or walk-in visit to the Louisville Area Office. For guidance on laws or additional information, talk initially to an EEOC representative at 1-800-669-4000. 

On a related note, the discriminated employee can also file a claim at the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights for cases covered by state statutes. Note that KCHR and EEOC work together to process claims. Contact KCHR at 1-800-292-5566 for further guidance, or send an email to kchr.mail@ky.gov

Retaliation-motivated termination of an employee reporting unsafe workplace conditions can be submitted to OSHA. Whistleblower complaints in this matter cannot be made anonymously. Complaints can be submitted online, by visiting the Kentucky State Plan Office, or by calling its number at 502-564-3070. 

If you were terminated for exercising your right under Kentucky labor laws, you may contact the 

state labor office at 502-564-5550. If your case is related to federal laws, contact the Department of Labor at 1-866-487-9243 or online. You can also get in touch with the Kentucky Wage and Hour Division at 502-582-5226 or by visiting its location.

For complex cases, it is best to consult with an employment lawyer near you. A lawyer can help you understand your legal rights and decide the best course of action. Lawyers can also assist you with how to deal with your employer and preserve your claim.

What is the Statute of Limitations for Wrongful Termination Cases in Kentucky?

There are different statutes of limitations for various wrongful termination cases in Kentucky.

Before a lawsuit can be filed, discrimination allegations that fall under federal laws must first go through the EEOC. This should be done within 180 days since the discrimination happened. 

A deadline of 300 days is given if any Kentucky laws are violated. The 180-day deadline also applies to claims filed at KHCR. EEOC will have to issue a Notice of Right to Sue within 180 days of receiving the discrimination claim. Discharged employees can also request the Notice of Right to Sue earlier than the said deadline. 

The following table summarizes the deadlines for each respective wrongful termination case:

Reason for Wrongful Termination 

Deadline for Filing a Lawsuit

Discrimination under federal laws with the Notice of Right to Sue

90 days

Personal injury or tort claims

One year

Breach of employment contract (Oral agreements)

Five years

Breach of employment contract (Written agreements)

10 years for contracts after July 15, 2014

15 years for contracts before July 15, 2014

How Much Can Someone Sue an Employer in Kentucky for Wrongful Termination?

Generally, compensation for wrongful termination cases can range from $10,00 to $120,000. In some cases, it can reach up to a million-dollar payout. 

Through a lawsuit, state laws provide the opportunity for wronged employees to pursue civil remedies for actual losses and legal fees. This means that they can seek reparation for quantifiable losses such as missing wages, possible earning loss, and lost benefits. 

Discharged employees may also seek to recover damages for non-quantifiable losses, like pain and suffering, mental stress, and emotional distress. However, recovery for these losses may be difficult without forensic law applications. Because of this, the said employees are advised to seek counsel with an employment lawyer in their area.

Many lawyers have put forth the assertion that a claimant/employee is more likely to receive better compensation than underrepresented ones. This is worth exploring for wrongfully terminated employees whose cases may have seriously affected their lives. These lawyers can assist in negotiating better severance packages, protecting their rights, and seeking justice.

Resources for Employees in Kentucky

Kentucky employment and labor laws can be confusing for ordinary employees. Thus, they are encouraged to utilize different government and non-governmental resources that can help their respective cases. The following section enumerates some of these resources:

Regional Civil Legal Aid Programs

Various regional Civil Legal Aid Programs can help low-income workers and disabled employees with serious legal problems. These programs include Kentucky Legal Aid, Legal Aid Society, Legal Aid of the Bluegrass, and AppalReD Legal Aid. They can provide representation, legal resources, and counsel to those who have been underpaid or had wages withheld unlawfully. 

Kentucky Career Center

Displaced workers can up their game by enrolling in skills training provided under the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. They will also find assistance in finding employment, applying for apprenticeships, and making connections regarding vocational rehabilitation services. 

Those receiving unemployment insurance benefits can be eligible for financial aid. To get started, workers can talk to a career counselor at the nearest Kentucky Career Center office. They can also call 877-872-5627. 

Kentucky Office of Unemployment Insurance

State residents can obtain unemployment insurance benefits when they have been out of work for the past 12 months or less. Certain eligibility requirements apply. To get started, they can go through the Kentucky Unemployment Insurance (UI) Quick Guide. Filing the insurance claim can be done online or by calling 502-875-0442 during regular office hours.

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