Employment and labor laws in Kentucky [Updated 2023]


Sep 11, 2023

Employment and labor laws play a critical role in creating balanced and fair workplaces—protecting both employees and employers.

While federal laws establish a baseline, employers must recognize that labor laws can vary significantly from state to state, reflecting the local ethos and economic conditions. In Kentucky, state laws are notably less strict than those that exist on the federal level, offering a different employment landscape for businesses and workers alike.

Navigating these unique, state-specific nuances can be challenging. Fortunately, Rippling’s Professional Employer Organization service can seamlessly manage local tax registration and ensure compliance with Kentucky's distinct laws. By eliminating the guesswork, Rippling allows businesses to focus on growth and scale more rapidly while staying compliant in the Bluegrass State—and anywhere else in the US.

Employment vs. labor law: What’s the difference?

While the terms "employment law" and "labor law" are often used interchangeably, they serve different legal domains. The distinction primarily revolves around who is involved.

Employment law focuses on the relationship between the employer and individual employees. On the other hand, labor law deals with the collective relationship between employers and their workforce, specifically through unions.

Here’s a more detailed breakdown of what each distinction covers:

  • Employment law covers issues like workplace discrimination, harassment, wrongful termination, wage disputes, workplace safety, and employee benefits; and is concerned with ensuring fairness and protection for the individual employee against potential employer malpractices.
  • Labor law governs collective bargaining procedures; addresses strikes, picketing, and other union-related activities; and ensures a balance of power between employer entities and organized groups of employees.

Wages and hours in Kentucky

When it comes to paying their workers, employers in Kentucky must adhere to both Kentucky law and federal regulations. Wage law determines how much employees must be paid, while hour laws dictate when and how long they can work, including when they must take breaks and other important regulations.

Minimum wage in Kentucky

Kentucky’s minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, the same as the federal minimum wage. Kentucky law says that the state’s minimum wage rates are tied to the federal rates, so if the federal minimum wage increases according to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the minimum wage in Kentucky will increase to match it.

With Rippling, it’s easy to stay compliant with minimum wage laws, even when you operate in multiple states—it automatically flags violations based on where an employee is located.

Overtime pay in Kentucky

Overtime laws in Kentucky are set and enforced by the FLSA and the Kentucky Labor Cabinet. Employees who clock more than 40 hours of work in a single workweek are entitled to overtime pay, which should equal 1.5 times their normal hourly rate of pay.

Similarly, employees who work seven days a week are entitled to overtime pay for all hours worked on the seventh day.

There are some exemptions to overtime requirements. Exempt employees include:

  • Agriculturists
  • Government employees
  • Domestic workers who work in people’s homes
  • Babysitters
  • Companions of elderly, sick, or convalescing people
  • Newspaper delivery workers
  • Employees of nonprofit camps, religious, and educational centers who work less than seven months each calendar year
  • Employees in 24-hour residential care facilities for children who are dependent, abused, or neglected
  • Employees in non-profit childcare facilities
  • Employees in residential care for adults with mental health or intellectual disabilities
  • Employees in retail, hotels, restaurants, and service industries that meet certain conditions

To adhere to Kentucky’s overtime pay laws, Rippling’s payroll software automatically applies the correct hourly rates when an employee crosses the overtime threshold.

Pay transparency in Kentucky

Pay transparency laws, which obligate employers to disclose salary ranges to applicants and current employees, are increasing in popularity across the US. But, the laws still vary from state to state.

Kentucky has proposed statewide pay transparency legislation, but as of 2023, no law has been passed. However, in Louisville—the state’s largest city— there is legislation that prohibits employers from requesting salary history from job applicants.

Rippling enforces compensation bands during onboarding and flags out-of-band adjustments, so you can approve special cases and block others as needed.

Breaks and rest periods in Kentucky

Employees in Kentucky are entitled to a rest break for every four hours worked in a day. The break should be at least 10 minutes long, and all breaks that last less than 20 minutes should be paid. 

Kentucky employees are also entitled to lunch breaks, if they choose to take them. Lunch periods should be as close to the middle of an employee’s shift as possible—between the third and fifth hour during an eight-hour shift—and should last for a “reasonable period” of at least 30 minutes. As long as the employee is fully relieved of all work duties during their meal period, they don’t need to be paid during this time. But if they have to do any work while eating, they must be paid.

Employees can waive their right to a meal break. If this is the case, employers should get this in writing, should any disputes arise later.

Leaves of absence in Kentucky

In Kentucky, employers are required to offer certain types of leave to their employees:

  • Family and medical leave
  • Jury duty leave
  • Voting leave
  • Military leave
  • Emergency response leave
  • Witness leave
  • Adoption leave

While employees must be allowed to take time away from work for these reasons, they don’t need to be paid. Employers are not required to provide leave for vacation, sick leave, or holiday leave.

Below, we’ll cover the different types of leave in more detail.

Family and medical leave

All employees are entitled to up to 12 weeks of leave (unpaid) per year under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) for household or medical reasons. FMLA leave can be for:

  • The employee’s own serious illness
  • To provide care for a family member with a serious illness
  • To care for a newly born child
  • The placement of a foster or newly adopted child in the employee’s family
  • An injury or other emergency with an employee’s family member who is an active duty military member

Jury duty leave

Kentucky law says that if an employee receives a summons for jury duty, their employer must allow them to serve. They can’t be fired or penalized in any way for being absent from work for serving on a jury.

Voting leave

Kentucky employers must offer at least four hours of voting leave to all employees. Employers aren’t allowed to fire or penalize employees who take time off to vote, unless they can prove the employee took voting leave, but didn’t actually vote.

Military leave

Military leave in Kentucky is regulated by federal law, under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Act. It states that employees must be granted a leave of absence from work to serve in the US armed forces, and be reinstated upon their return to work.

Members of the Kentucky National Guard are protected by a state law that offers them the same protection as members of the US armed services get under federal law. They’re covered whether their leave of absence is for active duty or for training.

Emergency response leave

Employees in Kentucky are protected if they take time away from work to respond to an emergency if they are a:

  • Volunteer firefighter
  • Rescue squad member
  • Ambulance driver
  • Peace officer
  • Any other emergency response position

Volunteer emergency workers must not be penalized by their employers for taking leave to respond to an emergency and, if they are injured while responding, leave can last for up to 12 months.

Witness leave

Kentucky law requires employers to allow employees to take unpaid leave if they are summoned to be a witness in any court. They may be required to show proof.

Adoption leave

Employers in Kentucky are required to offer up to six weeks of unpaid leave for employees who are in the process of adopting a child. This time should be used for receiving custody and all related activities.

Vacation time

Employers are not required to offer any time off for vacation in Kentucky. However, if they offer vacation benefits, they are required to honor their own employment contracts or written policies.

Paid sick leave in Kentucky

Employers aren’t required to offer any paid (or unpaid) sick leave in Kentucky.

Pregnancy disability leave in Kentucky

There are no specific laws related to pregnancy disability leave in Kentucky. Pregnancy disability would fall under the FMLA for covered employees. 

The Kentucky Pregnant Workers Act applies to employers with 15+ employees, requiring them to provide reasonable accommodations for pregnant employees. Reasonable accommodations could include:

  • Assistance with manual labor
  • Adjustments to work schedules
  • More frequent bathroom breaks
  • Appropriate seating arrangements

Employers are also required to provide breastfeeding employees with breaks to pump at work, as well as a private area to do so (that is not a bathroom stall).
Rippling allows you to customize and automate your leave policy—plus, you get full visibility into how your employees utilize their leave.

Workplace safety in Kentucky

It’s up to all employers to maintain a safe working environment for employees by providing safe equipment, implementing safety policies, and training employees on company-wide safety procedures.

Employees in Kentucky are covered by federal regulations under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA). OSHA is responsible for:

  • Setting and enforcing industry-specific and general regulations that employers must follow to maintain the safety and health of their workers. These standards range from proper use and maintenance of equipment, to handling of hazardous materials, to provision of safety training.
  • Conducting regular inspections of workplaces to ensure compliance with its standards. An inspection can be triggered by various factors, including workplace accidents, complaints, or industries known for high-risk hazards.
  • Training and education to help employers and workers understand their rights and responsibilities.

In addition to OSHA’s federal program, Kentucky operates its own state plans under OSHA. Kentucky’s Occupational Safety and Health Program (KyOSH) is responsible for enforcing OSHA regulations within the state. While state plans must be at least as effective as the federal OSHA program, they can adopt stricter standards and offer additional protections.

According to the Kentucky OSH Act, every employer in Kentucky must have a written Safety, Health and Injury & Illness Prevention Plan (IIPP) in place.

With Rippling PEO, you can pay as you go for workers’ comp plans—rather than pay upfront for the whole year—giving you more flexibility to scale your business.

Discrimination and harassment laws in Kentucky

Under the Kentucky Civil Rights Act (KCRA), employers can’t discriminate against employees based on the following characteristics, including:

  • Race
  • Color
  • National origin
  • Age
  • Religion
  • Sex (pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions)
  • Disability

The KCRA applies to employers with eight or more employees, but for disability discrimination purposes, it applies to employers with 15+ employees.

Another law, the Kentucky Equal Opportunities Act, outlaws employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of physical disability, HIV, AIDS, or AIDS-related complex. This applies to employers with eight or more employees.

And finally, in Kentucky, employment discrimination against employees for their use or nonuse of tobacco products is against the law. This means employers can’t fire or refuse to hire anyone because they use or don’t use tobacco, as long as they comply with company policy while at work. Employers can, however, offer smoking cessation programs as an employment benefit. This law also applies to employers who have eight or more employees.

Under federal law, workplace harassment can be considered a form of discrimination. Harassment means an employee is experiencing unwelcome behavior based on the characteristics listed above. It could be offensive jokes, threats, insults, racial or sexual slurs, physical or sexual assault, inappropriate objects or photos, or any other conduct that interferes with the employee’s wellbeing and job performance. 

Sexual harassment training requirements vary depending on the state you live in, and Kentucky doesn’t require any for non-government workers. Still, it’s always a good idea to provide training to your employees. Employers are responsible for not only their own conduct, but also that of all their employees—regardless of whether they were aware of any harassment happening. Rippling’s Learning Management System comes pre-loaded with core sexual harassment training to keep all employees up to date on local and federal laws.

Unions in Kentucky

A labor union is a group of employees who join together to “act collectively” to advance their group interests for fair working conditions, higher wages, better benefits, etc. The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) gives all employees across the US the right to:

  • Organize or join an existing union to bargain with their employer
  • Choose employee representatives and bargain collectively for contracts that set their working conditions
  • Discuss employment terms with their coworkers
  • Take action to improve working conditions, like filing complaints with their employer or the government, working with a union, going on strike, or picketing
  • Choose not to join a union

The NLRA also protects employees’ rights to support or not support a union—it prohibits employers from restricting, bribing, firing, demoting, or threatening employees for supporting a union. In the same vein, it prohibits unions from threatening employees with losing their jobs or any other adverse actions if they choose not to support the union.

While the NLRA is a federal law, other union-related regulations are at the state level. For example, Kentucky is a right-to-work state, which means no employer can require employees to join a union as a condition of employment.

FAQs about Kentucky labor and employment laws

Are independent contractors covered under Kentucky employment laws?

It depends on the law, but generally, no. Make sure you’re classifying your workers correctly with our free analyzer tool.

Does at-will employment exist in Kentucky?

Yes. Kentucky is an at-will employment state, meaning employment can be terminated at any time, for any reason, and without notice, as long as the reason doesn’t violate any laws. 

What privacy rights do employees have in Kentucky?

Privacy laws in Kentucky set limits on how employers can monitor employees in the workplace. Namely:

  • Employers cannot monitor or record conversations and phone calls without the consent of at least one party.
  • If employers choose to photograph employees or otherwise engage in workplace surveillance, they must have a legitimate business reason.

Are background checks legal in Kentucky?

Background checks are legal. In Kentucky, they’re actually required for certain positions, including:

  • School personnel
  • Public college and university personnel
  • Personal services agency personnel
  • Long term care facility personnel
  • Childcare center personnel

Are whistleblowers protected in Kentucky?

In Kentucky, laws protect whistleblowers from being fired, retaliated against, discriminated against, or otherwise treated differently in certain situations for:

  • Exercising their First Amendment rights
  • Reporting an alleged violation of the law
  • Showing opposition to or complaining about discrimination in the workplace
  • Reporting an OSHA violation to the Department of Labor
  • Opposing or being part of an investigation into discrimination

Is workers’ compensation coverage required in Kentucky?

All employers in Kentucky are required to have workers’ compensation insurance, which covers employees if they are injured or become ill due to their work—though certain employees, like agricultural workers and employees of religious institutions, aren’t covered.

Are there required healthcare benefits in Kentucky?

Under federal law, all employers with 50+ full-time employees are mandated to provide health insurance benefits.

Are Kentucky employers required to provide bereavement leave?

Employers in Kentucky are not required to provide any bereavement leave to their employees, either paid or unpaid.

What employee protections are available in Kentucky if layoffs occur?

If a business is covered under the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act, employees should receive a 60-day notice before layoffs occur, regardless of the state they live in.

Any laid-off employee must be paid by the end of the current pay period, or within 14 days of their last day of work. Employees in Kentucky who lose their jobs may also qualify for unemployment insurance, which helps cover their living expenses while they look for a new job. Unemployment benefits can be claimed for up to 26 weeks.

What child labor laws exist in Kentucky?

Kentucky child labor laws restrict the industries, number of hours, and times of day at which minors can work. Children under 14 years of age typically can’t work unless it’s through a school-sponsored program. Children between the ages of 15 and 17 are subject to various labor laws depending on their age. For example, a child under 16 can’t work more than 18 hours per week while school is in session, while a child between 16 and 17 can’t work more than 30 hours per week while school is in session.

Disclaimer: Rippling and its affiliates do not provide tax, accounting, or legal advice. This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, tax, legal, or accounting advice. You should consult your own tax, legal, and accounting advisors before engaging in any related activities or transactions.

last edited: November 30, 2023

The Author

Christina Marfice

Christina is a writer, editor, and content strategist based in Chicago. Having lived and worked in Argentina, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru, she’s bringing her expertise on hiring in Latin America to Rippling.