On November 8, 2022, voters in Nebraska approved a ballot measure to raise the statewide minimum wage to $15 an hour, up from $9. The measure, Initiative 433, will gradually increase the state’s wage floor to $15 an hour by 2026. The changes are designed to be made each year as follows:
- $10.50 on January 1, 2023;
- $12.00 on January 1, 2024;
- $13.50 on January 1, 2025; and
- $15.00 on January 1, 2026.
After 2026, the state’s minimum wage will see additional increases each year based on the increase in the cost of living. Nebraska currently has a $9 hourly minimum wage, the result of a 2014 ballot measure, Initiative 425, which raised the state’s minimum wage up from $7.25.
Nebraska was one of four states/districts with minimum wage measures on the ballots this November, along with Nevada, the District of Columbia, and Maine. All the measures were approved, except in Portland, Maine, where a proposal for an $18 minimum wage failed. The measure would have made that city the first in the nation to approve such a high floor. Initiative 433’s success in Nebraska is likely to be seen as part of a larger trend that voters across party lines support minimum wage increases. Since 1938, when the Fair Labor Standards Act set a federal wage floor, voters have rejected only three of the 30 proposed statewide minimum wage increases on ballots.
There are numerous exemptions to coverage under Nebraska and federal minimum wage laws. For instance, Nebraska and federal law enable employers to pay tipped workers less than the minimum wage, as long as tips make up the difference. The current minimum wage for tipped employees is $2.13 an hour. The sum of the hourly wage and tips received by employees compensated in this way must equal or exceed the state’s new minimum wage laws. See NEB. REV. STAT. § 48-1203(3). Moreover, Nebraska law exempts employers who employ less than four employees at any one time. See NEB. REV. STAT. § 48-1202(2). And there is no Nebraska minimum wage requirement for a worker employed in agriculture, as a babysitter in a private home, in a bona fide executive, administrative, or professional capacity or as a super intendent or supervisor, or by the United States, the state of Nebraska, or any political subdivision of either of them. Id. § 48-1202(3).
Nonetheless, employers should proceed with caution before assuming their employees are exempt from minimum wage coverage. Employee protections are often construed very liberally, and exemptions are to be narrowly construed against the employer seeking to assert them. See Mays v. Midnite Dreams, Inc., 300 Neb. 485, 915 N.W.2d 71 (2018); See also Sutton v. Engineered Systems, Inc., 598 F.2d 1134, 1135 n.3 (8th Cir. 1979).
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