Kentucky Labor Laws: A Complete Guide to Wages, Breaks, Overtime, and More (2024)

In this article, we’ll dive deep into Kentucky’s labor laws, with details on all the important aspects of the state’s regulations on your employees.

In Kentucky, fondly known as the Bluegrass State, the state government provides certain rules and regulations that dictate how a business can and should be run. Understanding these rules and regulations is important for navigating the intricacies of doing business while empowering employers and employees alike.

Kentucky labor laws are panoramic, cutting across the board and controlling several parts of business ranging from hiring ethics or practices to breaks, leaves, and employee pay.

Whether you are an employer looking to stay on the right side of the law while you do business or an employee looking to understand their rights, understanding lawful practices regarding labor and business in Kentucky is a must-have advantage.

This guide, a part of a 50-state series about labor laws, aims to help you achieve that, regardless of the industry you work in as part of the Kentucky workforce.

From details about wages and benefits to essential information about overtime regulations, this guide provides everything you need to know to create or enjoy a productive work environment.

Meals and Breaks in Kentucky

Kentucky employers are legally mandated to provide a meal break of at least 20 minutes to employees who work for at least 7.5 hours. This break must be provided to the employee between the 3rd and 5th hour of the workday as long as there is no mutual agreement stating otherwise. Additionally, this break can last for a reasonable length, such as 30 minutes.

Employers can choose not to compensate their workers for this break if they are fully relieved of their duties. However, all breaks that are less than 20 minutes should be paid.

Another break that is mandated is the rest break. According to Kentucky law, employees within the state must be eligible for a rest period of at least 10 minutes per every 4 hours of work.

Employees can choose to waive their breaks, but this should be written and documented.

Leave and Paid Time Off (PTO) in Kentucky

Kentucky state-specific laws also regulate the types of leaves that employees are mandated to have and those that they are not. These laws also describe in detail if compensation must be offered.

According to Kentucky labor law, employees should not suffer negative consequences upon their return to work after a required leave. This safeguards employee jobs while they get essential time off from work.

The required employee leave types include:

Kentucky employers are legally mandated to provide a meal break of at least 20 minutes to employees who work for at least 7.5 hours. This break must be provided to the employee between the 3rd and 5th hour of the workday as long as there is no mutual agreement stating otherwise. Additionally, this break can last for a reasonable length, such as 30 minutes.

Employers can choose not to compensate their workers for this break if they are fully relieved of their duties. However, all breaks that are less than 20 minutes should be paid.

Another break that is mandated is the rest break. According to Kentucky law, employees within the state must be eligible for a rest period of at least 10 minutes per every 4 hours of work.

Employees can choose to waive their breaks, but this should be written and documented.

Family and medical leave

This is offered to employees under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). FMLA states that all employees are eligible for 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave within one year to attend to household medical-related issues. 

These issues may include:

An employee is only considered eligible for this leave if they have worked for at least a year and 1250 work hours. Additionally, this law only applies to employers with more than 50 employees.

If the employee’s sick family member is a member of the Armed Forces with a severe health condition or injury, the employee is eligible for up to 26 weeks of job-protected leave. However, this sick family member must be the employee’s spouse, parent, child, or next of kin.

Jury Duty

Sometimes, an employee might be summoned to perform jury duty. When this happens, the employer must provide permission for the employee to be absent from work without any risk of job loss or being penalized.

Voting Leave

All Kentucky employers must provide at least 4 hours of voting time leave to all employees without penalization of the employees in question. The only exception to this rule is if the employer can prove that the employee didn’t cast their vote during this leave, in which case the employee can be penalized.

Military Leave

Kentucky employers must provide employees a leave of absence to serve in The Armed Forces, The National Guard, or The state militia. This leave is regulated by federal law.

The rule also states that upon the employee’s return, they must be provided with some pay increases and other benefits like they have been present at work the whole period.

Additionally, Kentucky has a law that offers members of the Kentucky National Guard a leave, not only for active duty but all necessary training.

Emergency Response Leave

For every employee who wants to take time off work to respond to or assist in an emergency, employers must provide an emergency response leave. This leave is offered to any employee who performs any of the following roles:

Employers may request proof of emergency role in the form of a letter from the supervisor or an institution where the employee performed the emergency work. However, the volunteering employee must not be penalized.

For an emergency response leave, employees can decide if the leave should be paid or not. Additionally, if an employee suffers an injury while serving at their emergency task, they are eligible for up to 12 months of leave, during which the employer cannot lay them off.

Witness Leave

If an employee is summoned as a witness in any court case, the employer is legally required to provide paid or unpaid leave. Additionally, the employer cannot punish such an employee. However, the employer may request proof that the employee was present as a witness in the court. This proof often comes in the form of a court certificate.

Adoption Leave

If any employee is in the process of adoption, the employee must provide up to 6 weeks of leave, during which the employee can settle custody and perform all necessary activities.

Kentucky Non-Required Leave

Likewise, there are several categories of leave or time off that an employer is not required by law to provide. However, the employer might choose to offer them as employee benefit. If the employer chooses to offer these leaves to employees, it is important to state all details and mutual agreement in the employee contract.

These non-required leave types include:

Overtime Regulations in Kentucky

In Kentucky, any number of work hours that exceeds 40 hours per week counts as overtime for full-time employees who work 9-5.

When this occurs, employees are entitled to one-and-a-half times their regular wage rate. For minimum-wage employees in Kentucky, this amounts to an hourly wage of $10.875.

Kentucky state law also stipulates that if an employee works for 7 consecutive days, all hours worked on the 7th day will be treated as overtime.

Overtime Exceptions

There are some cases in which certain professionals are exempt from the overtime rule. This includes:

Besides these government-approved exemptions, Kentucky state law exempts certain occupations from overtime pay. These occupations include:

Wages and Benefits in Kentucky

Like the federal regulation, Kentucky state regulations declare that any number of hours up to 40 hours every week must be compensated to employees at a rate of at least the minimum wage. In Kentucky, the minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, mirroring the federal minimum wage.

Watch the video below for a quick and easy overview of details about wages and benefits in Kentucky:

Wage Type in KY

Regular minimum wage

$7.25 /hr.

Regular tipped wage

$2.13 /hr.

Subminimum wage

$7.25 /hr.

Since the Federal wage rate and Kentucky State’s wage rates are the same, the state’s law states that a rise in the federal wage rate is directly proportional to a rise in the state’s wage rate, according to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

However, certain professions are exempt from the state-specific minimum wage rule. These professions, specifically those in the hospitality industry who typically receive tips. These employees must regularly and constantly receive gratuities as extra cash to be considered tipped employees, many of which include servers, waiters, and bartenders.

For tipped employees in Kentucky, the minimum wage is $2.13.

However, if the total base pay of $2.13 plus tips does not equal at least $7.25, Kentucky state law mandates that the employer must make up the difference. 

Additionally, Kentucky restricts the practice of tip pooling, which involves making tipped employees share their tips with non-tipped employees like chefs and dishwashers. In fact, Kentucky is one of the few states that legally restrict employers from initiating tip pooling.

Subminimum wage is paid to minors, employees with disabilities, apprentices, learners, and student workers. However, it is also set at $7.25 in Kentucky.

Pay Frequency

In Kentucky, employers must establish a payment method that follows at least a semi-monthly schedule. This means employers need to compensate employees no later than 13  days after the end of the pay period.

The employer may choose to pay using:

Pay stubs are not mandated by state law, but many employers choose to provide detailed pay information for their employees’ convenience.

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Wage Deductions

Employers can make deductions from an employee’s wages under certain cases. These cases are usually authorized by local, state, or federal law. Additionally, employers can legally make deductions from wages when they have written consent from a specific employee who wants to cover insurance, hospital, or other important bills by choice of wage deductions.

Final Paycheck

When an employee is let go, employers in Kentucky are required by law to provide a final paycheck to the employee whose employment was terminated. This paycheck must include all the leftover wages and benefits.

The final paycheck must be paid at the next regularly scheduled payday or within 14 days of the separation.

Employee Benefits

Kentucky labor laws do not require employers to provide specific mandatory benefits beyond compliance with federal laws, such as Social Security, workers’ compensation, and unemployment insurance.

However, many employers in Kentucky offer a range of optional benefits to attract and retain talent. These include health insurance, retirement plans, paid time off (sick leave and vacation), and more.

However, the rules between required and non-required benefits sometimes overlap.

For example, if you’re a business owner with fewer than 50 workers, you aren’t required to provide health insurance benefits. However, if you employ more than 50 full-time equivalent employees (FTEs) in Kentucky, you must provide health insurance that meets minimum essential coverage (MEC). This will satisfy the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) employer rule.

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Prevailing Wages in Kentucky

Kentucky does not have a prevailing wage law. However, employees in Kentucky may be eligible to receive prevailing wages if they work on government-funded projects or perform specific government services. This includes projects like construction, renovation, or repair of public buildings, highways, bridges, and other infrastructure.

The objective of this wage is to maintain fair labor standards and prevent the underpayment of workers involved in these projects.

It is important to note that prevailing wages may differ from the federal minimum wage depending on the employment contract or project being worked on.

It is crucial to remain updated on the law of prevailing wages as the rates are subject to change. To find the most current prevailing wage rates in Kentucky, employers and contractors should refer to the Kentucky Labor Cabinet’s official website, or check federal websites responsible for promulgating prevailing wage rates, like

These agencies update and publish prevailing wage schedules regularly, which typically include the specific wage rates and fringe benefits applicable to different job classifications and regions within the state.

Hiring Practices in Kentucky

In Kentucky, employers are legally restricted from making hiring decisions based on several factors, such as:

This is to prevent discrimination during the hiring process. 

While discrimination isn’t legal during the hiring process, background checks are. Background checks are controlled by the Federal Fair Credit Reporting Act, which regulates the collection, accuracy, and distribution of information in the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

However, only certain positions in Kentucky require background checks:

  • School personnel such as new certified hires, student teachers, and coaches
  • Public college and university personnel
  • Personal services agency personnel
  • Long-term care facilities personnel (as long as the facility is owned, managed, or operated by the Department of Behavioral Health, Developmental, and Intellectual Disabilities)
  • Childcare center personnel (provided the employee has direct contact with minors)
61% of U.S. employees have experienced or witnessed discrimination based on age, race, gender, or sexual orientation.

Employer Reporting Requirements in Kentucky

Kentucky has various reporting requirements that employers must adhere to, involving reporting to different state agencies.

  • Employers in Kentucky are required to report newly hired and rehired employees to the Kentucky New Hire Reporting Center within 20 days of the hire date. This information is crucial for the enforcement of child support orders.
  • Employers in Kentucky must report wage and employment information to the Kentucky Office of Unemployment Insurance. This helps determine eligibility for unemployment benefits and the amount of benefits an individual may receive.

Kentucky Recordkeeping Requirements

Recordkeeping requirements in Kentucky fall under the Fair Labour Standards Acts (FLSA). Under this act, employers are required to:

If the Family and Medical Leave Act covers the employing company, the employer must also keep relevant records of all leaves, notices, or policies for at least three years.

Health and Safety Standards in Kentucky

Kentucky, as with all other states, prioritizes the safety of employees at work. As such, the creation and sustenance of a safe working environment are mandated by federal and Kentucky state laws.

The law governing and overseeing employee safety is regulated by the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA). OSHA highlights every role employers and employees must play in reducing or possibly eliminating the risk of accidents at work. 

Additionally, OSHA clearly states that employers are required to continually inspect for flaws and irregularities in the safety conditions and continually improve these irregularities.

In Kentucky, some safety priorities OSHA mandates include:

To facilitate the adoption of safety and health practices in workplaces, OSHA inspectors, also known as compliance safety and health officers, conduct regular inspections. These inspections may take place for several reasons, some of which include:

The Division of Compliance in Kentucky is responsible for enforcing Occupational Safety and Health Standards in the public and private sectors. If employers and employees wish to report unsafe working conditions in the state, they can contact the division.

Additionally, the Kentucky Occupational Safety and Health Program (KyOSH) is in charge of enforcing OSHA regulations within the state. According to the KyOSH Act, every employer in Kentucky must have a written Safety, Health, and Injury and Illness Prevention Plan (IIPP) in place.

If employers or employees have concerns about their workplace, they can also contact the KyOSH. 

Worker deaths in America are down—on average, from about 38 worker deaths a day in 1970 to 13 a day in 2020.

Child Labor Laws in Kentucky

Child labor laws in Kentucky are tailored to protect the rights and prevent the exploitation of minors (individuals under 18) in the state. These laws not only keep under-aged individuals safe, but also serve to prioritize education.

Child Work Limitation

The rules for hiring minors aged 14 and 15 differ from those for employing minors aged 16 and 17.

Minors aged 14 and 15 can work under the following conditions:

On the other hand, minors aged 16 and 17 can work under the following conditions:

In all cases, employers must give minor employees a break of at least 30 minutes for every 5 hours of work.

Prohibited Occupations For Minors

Minors in Kentucky are prohibited from working in certain industries and specific occupations. 

These include:

Employee Termination and Resignation in Kentucky

In Kentucky, employment relationships are generally governed by the principles of “at-will” employment, meaning that either employer or employee can terminate the employment relationship at any time, with or without cause, unless there is an employment contract stating otherwise.

It is important to know that in some cases, exceptions to the ‘at-will rule’ may arise in cases involving employment contracts, union agreements, or certain legal protections against wrongful termination

Notice Requirements

There are generally no specific notice requirements for terminating employees in Kentucky. This means employers may lay off employees or terminate employment contracts without providing advance notice, although providing notice or a reason for termination may be advisable in certain situations to avoid potential legal issues.

For employees, while not legally required, providing notice of resignation is a professional courtesy. As with many states, the standard notice period is typically two weeks, although this can vary based on the terms of the employment contract, company policy, or industry standards.

Severance Pay

There are no state-specific laws in Kentucky that require an employer to offer severance pay. Regardless, if severance pay is offered, the employing company must comply with its own established pay policy that is stated in its employment contract.

Final Pay

Employers in Kentucky are legally mandated to provide a final paycheck to any employee whose employment was terminated for any reason. The paycheck must include the employee’s leftover wages and benefits and is due at the next scheduled payday or within 14 days of the employee’s termination.


Other than operating under the principle of at-will employment, Kentucky also has state-specific laws that promote a “right-to-work” state, which means that employees are not required to join a union or pay union dues as a condition of employment. Employees have the freedom to choose whether to participate in union activities.

Unemployment Benefits in Kentucky

Employees who are out of a job through no fault of their own may be eligible for unemployment pay and benefits. Eligible Kentucky residents can receive a percentage of their previous pay as unemployment benefits, up to a maximum of $415 per week, for up to 26 weeks. Those eligible must spend time searching for a new job while on unemployment benefits.

Additionally, eligible employees may continue to enjoy previously available health benefits after exiting a job through the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA)

To be eligible for unemployment benefits, you must:

If you are eligible to receive unemployment, your weekly benefit rate in Kentucky will be 1.1923% of your total wages during the base period. You will receive a maximum of $522 each week; the minimum amount is $39.

Application Process for Unemployment in Kentucky

To apply, individuals can file a claim online, in person at a local Kentucky Career Center, or over the phone.

The application process will require them to provide personal and employment information, including details about their previous employers and wages. It’s essential to apply as soon as possible after becoming unemployed, as there may be waiting periods before benefits are distributed.

Penalties for Noncompliance in Kentucky

Failing to comply with Kentucky labor laws can result in various penalties and fines. The specific penalties may vary depending on the nature of the violation:

Other Essential Information About Labor Laws in Kentucky

Resources and Further Reading on Kentucky Labor Laws

Here are some resources and contact information for further reading and assistance with Kentucky labor laws:

Kentucky Labor Cabinet

The Kentucky Labor Cabinet is the primary state agency responsible for labor-related matters.

Kentucky Career Center

The Kentucky Career Center provides resources for job seekers and employers, as well as information on unemployment benefits.

Kentucky Department of Workers' Claims

Kentucky Occupational Safety and Health (KY OSH)

For workplace safety and health information

Kentucky Legislature

For the most up-to-date Kentucky labor laws and regulations

Final Thoughts on Kentucky Labor Laws

Kentucky safeguards the interest of its employers and employees in the state workforce with several labor laws. These laws are not only tailored to ensure orderliness and fairness in the workforce- they also protect the rights of every employee within the state.

Navigating the complicated web that is Kentucky labor laws is a grueling process for many employers. However, if you want to avoid hefty fines and draining lawsuits, it is important to remain compliant with the laws of Kentucky. To do this, it is important to access the right resources to keep up to date with the constantly changing rules and policies.

For many businesses, the only real solution to compliance challenges is great software. The right business management software tends to come with built-in compliance and recordkeeping rules, regardless of your industry, how many employees you have, what they do, or how widely they’re dispersed across the state (or country).

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