The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) was passed during the recovery from the Great Depression and deals primarily with the minimum wage and overtime. The act did not initially include government employees. A series of amendments to the act and subsequent court decisions extended coverage to government employees a little more than 30 years ago. The most significant of the court decisions was Garcia v. San Antonio Metropolitan Transit Authority (1985).
The act can be enforced by private lawsuits brought by employees or by actions of the Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). There is a two-year statute of limitations, but the employer may be liable for back wages for three years if it is determined that the employer willfully withheld overtime pay.
There are some differences in the application of the act in relation to government employees as opposed to private employees. The act allows employers to dock exempt public employees for less than a full day as long as the employee was subject to a pay system “established by statute, ordinance or regulation or by a policy or practice established pursuant to principles of public accountability.” 29 C.F.R. § 541.710. There is additional discussion about exempt employees later in this section.