Hawaii employees have the benefit of federal and state laws protecting them through hiring to discharge. All residents should be cognizant of the employment laws that affect them.
Hiring Procedures Basics
Neutral hiring practices: Internet ads and other help-wanted advertisements, as well as hiring decisions, must be based on neutral factors other than personal characteristics such as race, gender, national origin, religion, and disability.
Interview Questions: Employers are generally free to ask whatever they want as long as they avoid questions regarding race, national origin, religion, marital status, and children. An employer may ask if a disabled person needs a work-place accommodation.
Law Regarding Minimum Wages and Overtime
The Federal Fair Labor Standards Act establishes which workers are covered under minimum wage and overtime requirements. The federal minimum wage is $7.25, which Hawaii has adopted. Employees earning a guaranteed monthly wage of $2,000 or more are exempt from the state minimum wage and overtime laws.
Employers can pay tipped employees $7 per hour if their tips equal the hourly minimum wage for each hour worked. Eligible employees receive overtime if they work over 40 hours per week. Sugar cane, dairy, and seasonal farm workers must work over 48 hours per week to get overtime pay.
Certain agricultural workers, domestic service workers, seamen, and drivers of vehicles carrying passengers are exempt from the state wage and hour laws.
Safety in the Workplace
All workers are guaranteed a safe and danger-free worksite under state and federal laws. Employees are entitled to protection for exposing safety violations and may report them anonymously.
Work Injuries and Insurance
Most employers of permanent, temporary, full- or part-time workers must maintain workers’ compensation coverage. This system provides wage-loss compensation, disability payments, and medical coverage for work-related injuries. Statutory guidelines provide the amount of benefits to be paid.
Those not covered include real estate workers paid on commission, domestic workers earning less than $225 per quarter, religious workers, domestics for public welfare recipients, and volunteers.
Hawaii follows the federal Family Medical and Leave Act (FMLA) for employees in companies with at least 50 employees, and all public employees. Employees who have worked at least 1,250 hours in the past year can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in a 12-month period to care for a family member, for the employee who has a serious medical condition, or a for newborn or newly adopted child. Employees may take up to 26 months to care for a military family member.
The Hawaii family leave law applies to employers with at least 100 employees and covers employees who have worked for at least six consecutive months. The law provides an employee up to 10 days for family leave purposes. An employer may require its employees to use their paid time off (PTO) before an extended sick leave becomes available. Maternity leave is also available, and a mother may be eligible for temporary total disability insurance.
Employees are entitled to take up to two hours of paid time off to vote.
Hostile Working Environment
State and federal laws prohibit harassment of employees, which includes making sexually explicit comments, jokes, photos, drawings, or sending emails that create a hostile working environment. Employees and supervisors may not engage in conduct that threatens or intimidates another employee or which constitutes unwanted physical contact of any kind.
What Is Prohibited?
Harassment includes sexual conduct, but also offensive gestures, comments, or other activity that is directed at persons based on their religion, national origin, gender, race, or disability.
Protection from Retaliation
An employee who has been disciplined, discharged, demoted, or who voluntarily resigns based on a hostile working environment may have an actionable claim against his employer.
Termination Laws and Pay
At-Will Contracts: Nearly all states, including Hawaii, allow employers to fire an employee for any reason if there is no written contract or if the contract states that it is “at-will. Still, employers cannot fire someone based on discrimination, harassment, pregnancy, age, work-related injury, or illness.
Final Pay: Unused vacation time is not considered to be wages earned so employees are not entitled to payment for unused time if they are terminated. But if the employer has paid such workers in the past, then a terminated worker may have a claim.
Unemployment Pay and COBRA
- Unemployment Compensation: Residents or in-state workers must have been terminated through no fault of their own, not be disabled, be actively seeking work, and able to work.
- COBRA: Federal law requires employers with at least 20 full-time employees to allow discharged workers the right to continue group health benefits for up to 18-months. The state has no law covering employers with less than 20 full-time employees.
Learn more about what COBRA is.
Retain a Hawaii Employment Attorney
Employment laws are more complex than outlined in this brief summary. Consult an employment attorney in Hawaii if you have questions regarding employment law.