Kentucky Labor Law Guide


A comprehensive guide to Kentucky labor laws: Covering key topics including minimum wage regulations, overtime provisions, mandated breaks, hiring and termination procedures and other miscellaneous employment laws.

Key Takeaways

  • Kentucky follows federal guidelines for the minimum wage at $7.25 per hour, with exception in some cities/counties.
  • Overtime pay is required for hours worked over 40 in a week at a rate of 1.5 times the regular rate of pay.
  • Employees in Kentucky are entitled to a 10-minute paid rest period for every 4 hours worked
  • Kentucky is a right-to-work state, allowing employees the freedom to choose union membership.
  • Kentucky allows certain employees to request time off instead of overtime pay when they work extra hours.

Minimum Wage Regulations in Kentucky

When it comes to minimum wage, Kentucky follows federal guidelines, impacting both employers and employees across the state. These guidelines aim to establish fairness in compensation, and having a good grasp of them is important to maintain fairness at work and avoid potential legal issues.

[Source: FRED]
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Regular Employees

Regular employees in Kentucky, or those who earn a fixed hourly wage or salary, are entitled to the federal minimum wage, which currently stands at $7.25 per hour. This rate hasn’t changed since 2010. However, the cities of Lexington and Louisville have a higher minimum wage of $8.20 per hour.

[Source: FRED]
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Tipped Employees

A tipped employee, like a barista or waiter, is a worker who typically receives more than $30 per month in tips. Tipped employees in Kentucky can receive a base wage of $2.13 per hour.

However, when you add their tips to this amount, it must total at least $7.25 per hour, which is the federal minimum wage. If their tips don’t reach an hour, the employer is responsible for making up the difference.

Overtime Rules and Regulations in Kentucky

Navigating overtime regulations in Kentucky is essential for both employers and employees to ensure fair compensation and compliance with state labor laws. There are two key provisions to consider, impacting both nonexempt and exempt employees.

Overtime for Over 40 Hours Worked in a Workweek

Kentucky’s first overtime provision aligns with federal standards, wherein employees must receive compensation at a rate of 1.5 times their regular pay rate for any hours worked in excess of 40 hours in a single workweek.

It’s important to know that this regulation does not mandate overtime pay for hours exceeding eight hours in a day or for work performed on weekends or holidays.

7th-Day Overtime Law

This second provision is distinct from the minimum wage law as it requires employers to provide overtime pay at a rate of time and a half for hours worked on the seventh day of one workweek.

However, the 7th-Day Overtime Law is applicable only when employers allow covered employees to work 7 days within a single workweek and when the employee is allowed to work over 40 hours in the workweek.

Nonexempt Employees

Nonexempt employees are eligible for overtime pay at 1.5 times their regular hourly wage for hours worked beyond the standard 40-hour workweek. They encompass various categories, such as hourly workers, part-time staff and individuals in specific job roles or industries that do not fall under the exemptions provided by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) wage and hour regulations.

Employers in Kentucky are responsible for accurately tracking and compensating nonexempt employees in accordance with federal guidelines.

Exempt Employees

Exempt employees are typically salaried workers, receiving a fixed salary regardless of the number of hours worked and are not eligible for overtime pay.

Exempt employees in Kentucky, similar to nonexempt employees, are subject to the federal minimum wage rate of $7.25 per hour or $684 per work week.

To be considered exempt, employees must meet specific criteria set by the FLSA. These criteria usually revolve around their job responsibilities, salary and classification, such as executive, administrative, professional or other specialized categories.

It’s important for employers to accurately classify their employees as exempt or nonexempt to adhere to wage regulations. Misclassification can lead to wage and hour violations, so employers should have a solid grasp of both federal and state labor laws to avoid potential legal complications.

At-Will Employment in Kentucky

Kentucky operates under employment-at-will principles. In this framework, unless there is a specific employment contract in place, either the employer or the employee can terminate the employment relationship at any time, with or without cause and notice, except for reasons prohibited by law.

Also, employers cannot terminate employees for public policy reasons that independently violate state or federal laws, including legislative actions. One such exception relates to reports of suspected abuse, stating that individuals making good faith reports should not face termination, demotion, rejection for promotion or other forms of retaliation.

Additionally, if an employer’s employment manual or handbook does not include disclaimers, its terms and conditions may establish contractual obligations for the employer and potentially limit the employment-at-will doctrine.

Right-To-Work Laws in Kentucky

Following the Kentucky Right to Work Act, which was passed in 2017 and upheld by the Kentucky Supreme Court in 2018, Kentucky operates as a “Right-to-Work” state. This means employees are not required to join a labor union or pay union fees as one of the conditions of their employment.

With this, Kentuckian employees are free to make union-related decisions. This also offers greater flexibility in relationships between employees and employers in unionized workplaces.

As of 2022, 7.9% of wage and salary workers in Kentucky are union members.

Rest and Meal Breaks in Kentucky

Kentucky mandates that employers provide both meal and rest breaks to their employees. Meal breaks should be offered at a reasonable time during the shift, typically unpaid, with restrictions before the third hour and after the fifth hour of work.

Employees are also entitled to a 10-minute paid rest period for every 4 hours worked. Young workers under 18 must receive a 30-minute meal break for every 5 hours worked, but longer breaks are also acceptable. These provisions ensure a balance between work efficiency and employee well-being.

Family and Medical Leave Laws in Kentucky

Kentucky labor laws follow the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which provides eligible employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave in a 12-month period for specific family and medical reasons. This allows eligible employees to take a leave in case of the following:

  • Serious health condition: If an employee or their immediate family member faces a serious health condition that requires medical treatment or caregiving, they can utilize FMLA leave.
  • Parental leave: New parents, including mothers and fathers, can take FMLA leave for the birth, adoption or fostering of a child.
  • Military service: When a family member is called to active military duty, eligible employees can take FMLA leave to handle matters related to their deployment.
  • Qualifying exigency: In certain circumstances, such as dealing with urgent issues arising from a family member’s deployment, employees can use FMLA leave.

To be eligible for FMLA leave, employees must meet specific criteria, including having completed at least 12 months of service and having worked 1,250 hours in the year preceding their leave.

For all employers, it’s mandatory to provide leave for National Guard members who are on active duty or training.

When these employees return from service, they must be reinstated to their positions with the same pay, seniority and benefits they would have had if the leave had never occurred. Paid leave is not compulsory for this type of absence.

Other Leave Laws

Here’s a quick overview of various types of leave and how Kentucky labor laws typically handle them:

  • Bereavement leave: Employers in Kentucky are not legally obligated to provide paid or unpaid bereavement leave.
  • Jury duty leave: If you’re summoned for jury duty, your employer is generally required to grant unpaid time off.
  • Voting leave: Kentucky labor laws do not mandate employers to provide time off for voting.

Workplace Safety and Health Regulations in Kentucky

Prioritizing workplace safety and health is paramount to creating a productive and secure work environment. Kentucky employers are subject to a combination of federal and state-specific regulations governing safety and health in the workplace.

This includes adherence to federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations, as well as any state-specific requirements that may exist in Kentucky to ensure the safety and well-being of employees.

Occupational Safety and Health Act

Kentucky adheres to the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act, which establishes the framework for ensuring safe and healthy working conditions for employees across the state.

In Kentucky, there were 8,200 recorded cases of injury and illness, showing a rate of 4.4 cases per 100 full-time workers—80% of those reported in Kentucky’s public sector occurred among local government workers.

Here’s the overview of fatal occupational injuries in Kentucky, by age:

[Source: 2021 Kentucky Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation]
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Kentucky’s Occupational Safety and Health Program (KyOSH)

Kentucky enforces its state plans following OSHA regulations through KyOSH. It also performs surveillance and prevention of occupational injuries and illnesses.

Fair Employment Practices and Anti-Discrimination

Promoting a workplace free from discrimination and ensuring fair employment practices are fundamental principles in Kentucky labor law. These principles are upheld through various statutes and regulations, with the cornerstone being the OSHA.

Other Anti-Discrimination Laws

In addition to the Fair Housing Law, Kentucky labor laws encompass other anti-discrimination laws designed to eliminate bias and promote equal opportunity in the workplace. These laws may address specific forms of discrimination or extend protections to certain groups of employees.

Kentucky Civil Rights Act

As upheld by the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights, discrimination is prohibited in terms of housing, employment, accommodations and credit based on age (40 and above in employment), color, disability, familial status (housing), national origin, race, religion and sex.

Kentucky Equal Opportunities Act

This prohibits employers with eight or more employees from discriminating against employees based on AIDS, HIV, physical disability and related reasons.

Independent Contractor Classification in Kentucky

Distinguishing between an employee and an independent contractor holds significance for both employers and workers in Kentucky.

As an employer, if you engage an individual without employees who would typically perform tasks performed by you or your employees, they generally qualify as your employees.

Meanwhile, independent contractors are individuals who execute unrelated tasks without your control or direction.

The classification can be determined through various tests, including the “Right to Control” and “Nature of Business” assessments.

  • Right to Control test: Involves a series of inquiries that gauge the employer’s capacity to influence various aspects of the worker’s role, including their working hours and environment.
  • Nature of Business test: Pivotal in determining whether a worker should be classified as an employee or an independent contractor in the state.

When in doubt, it is advisable to seek clarification from the Kentucky Office of Unemployment Insurance to minimize potential repercussions.

Official Holidays in Kentucky

As observed in most states in the United States (U.S.), private employers in Kentucky are not required to provide paid or unpaid leave for holidays. Employers can also require all employees to work during holidays as needed. Note that many employers in Kentucky do extend the benefit of paid holidays to their staff.

January 1New Year’s Day
January 16Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Birthday
February 20Washington’s Day
May 29Confederate Memorial Day
June 19Juneteenth National Independence Day
July 4Independence Day
September 4Labor Day
October 9Columbus Day
November 10Veteran's Day
November 23Thanksgiving
December 25Christmas Day

[Source: U.S. Bankruptcy Court – Western District of Kentucky]

Termination and Final Paychecks

Employers are required to compensate departing or terminated employees with all the wages or salaries they have earned. This payment must be made within the next regular pay period following the date of departure or termination, with a maximum window of 14 days after either of these events.

Understanding the intricacies of termination and final paycheck requirements is essential to avoid legal disputes and ensure a smooth transition for both employers and employees.

When navigating Kentucky labor laws and termination procedures, ensure you’re equipped with financial clarity. Our Paycheck Calculator allows you to estimate your earnings after accounting for taxes and deductions tailored to your state’s tax laws.

Paycheck Calculator
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Your estimated take home pay:
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Disclaimer: Please note that this paycheck calculator is designed to provide an estimate and should not be considered as professional tax advice. The actual withholding amounts and taxes owed may vary depending on individual circumstances and other factors. For accurate and personalized tax advice, we recommend consulting with a tax professional.

If your gross pay is 0 per - in the state of F, your net pay (or take home pay) will be $1,343.17 after tax deductions of 0% (or $ 156.83). Deductions include a total of [1] 0% (or $0.00) for the federal income tax, [2] 0% (or $0.00) for the state income tax, [3] 6.20% (or $0.00) for the social security tax and [4] 1.45% (or $0.00) for Medicare.

The Federal Income Tax is collected by the government and is consistent across all U.S. regions. In contrast, the State Income Tax is levied by the state of residence and work, leading to substantial variations. The Social Security Tax is used to fund Social Security, which benefits retirees, persons with disabilities and survivors of deceased workers. Medicare involves a federal payroll tax designated for the Medicare insurance program. As of 2022, Alaska, Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Washington and Wyoming do not levy a state income tax.

Miscellaneous Kentucky Labor Laws

Kentucky labor laws encompass a variety of regulations that address specific aspects of employment and labor relations.

Immigration Verification

Kentucky does not impose any extra employment verification processes on employers beyond federal I-9 compliance. State law does not mandate the use of E-Verify for employers in Kentucky.

Drug Testing

Kentucky labor laws allow employers to establish their own drug testing policies, giving them the discretion to terminate at-will employees who test positive on random drug tests.

Additionally, certified drug-free workplaces in Kentucky can benefit from workers’ compensation insurance premium discounts, as outlined in Ky. Rev. Stat. § 351.186.

It’s important to note that records of drug or alcohol test results are considered confidential unless authorized by the employee or ordered by a court. If drug testing is a condition of employment, the employer is responsible for covering the testing costs.

In terms of mandatory drug screening, Kentucky labor laws require drug screening tests for miners and specific law enforcement personnel before employment.

When it comes to compensation, if an employee fails a drug test, there’s a presumption that the illegal substance caused the injury, which could potentially exempt the employer from compensation.

Additionally, Kentucky considers reporting to work under the influence of alcohol or drugs during working hours as misconduct, and this can impact eligibility for unemployment benefits.

Lastly, Kentucky employers have the option to hire individuals who have failed a drug screen related to employment without incurring liability for certain negligent acts due to substance use disorder, provided they comply with Ky. Rev. Stat. § 222.215 requirements.

Smoking Laws

Kentucky law ensures that employees cannot be discriminated against at work because they are smokers or nonsmokers, as long as they follow the workplace smoking rules.

Employers also cannot make employees quit smoking outside of work, but they can give rewards for joining smoking cessation programs or have different health plan contributions for smokers and nonsmokers.

This protection applies to employers with at least 8 employees in Kentucky for 20 or more weeks in a year.

Check out this list of cities and countries that are part of the Kentucky Smoke-Free Ordinance.

Gun Laws

In Kentucky, employers cannot prohibit anyone who is legally allowed to own a firearm from keeping it in their vehicle while at the employers’ property.

However, firearms can only be taken out of the vehicle for self-defense, protecting others, safeguarding property or if allowed by the property owner.

If an employee moves a firearm from their vehicle to a coworker’s vehicle for any other purpose than those listed above, their respective employer can justifiably terminate their employment.

Frequently Asked Questions About Kentucky Labor Laws

Know your rights. Here are answers to some of the frequently asked questions related to Kentucky labor laws.

What is the legal working age in Kentucky?

The minimum employment age in Kentucky is 14 years old. However, some restrictions apply in terms of work hours, occupations, etc. for minors.

legal working age in Kentucky

Do you need a work permit in Kentucky?

You do not need a work permit in Kentucky. If you are a minor, you would need documentation to prove your age. However, if you are someone with pending applications of any kind (e.g., green card, asylum, etc.), you would need to apply for a permit in some cities/counties.

How many hours can you work in Kentucky?

As per federal law and Kentucky labor laws, eligible employees can work for 40 hours in a work week and any time exceeding that counts as overtime.

Can you be fired without cause in Kentucky?

As long as the termination is not due to discriminatory reasons, an employer in Kentucky can fire an employee for any or no reason.

This is because Kentucky is an employment-at-will state, which means that either the employer or the employee can end the employment relationship at any time and for any lawful reason, without the need for prior notice or cause.

Do salaried employees get overtime in Kentucky?

Many salaried employees are categorized as exempt and are not entitled to overtime pay. However, whether or not you can receive overtime pay is dependent on your salary.

If you do not meet the salary requirements or at least $684 per week, as required by the FLSA, then you will not be considered exempt and will, therefore, be eligible for overtime pay.

Disclaimer: This information serves as a concise summary and educational reference for Kentucky labor laws. It does not constitute legal advice. For personalized legal guidance, it is recommended to consult with an attorney.

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