I work at a movie theater in The U.S. State of Virginia. My employer pays one of my coworkers, a 17-year-old, $6.50 per hour. The minimum wage in Virginia is $7.25 per hour. What possible consequences could my employer face? Is there a situation in which this might be legal? How can I improve my coworker's life? Thanks so much.
Note the exceptions to the Virgina minimum wage law.
Virginia Under 20 Minimum Wage - $4.25 - Federal law allows any employer in Virginia to pay a new employee who is under 20 years of age a training wage of $4.25 per hour for the first 90 days of employment.
Virginia Student Minimum Wage - $6.16 - Full-time high school or college students who work part-time may be paid 85% of the Virginia minimum wage (as little as $6.16 per hour) for up to 20 hours of work per week at certain employers (such as work-study programs at universities).
Virginia Tipped Minimum Wage - See Here - Employees who earn a certain amount of tips every month may be paid a lower cash minimum wage, but must earn at least $7.25 including tips every hour.
And note the under-18 minimum wage laws as well. It's possible your co-worker could be covered by these.
How can I improve my coworker's life?
Unless you plan to take a moral stand and go to your employer and threaten to quit (and be prepared to do so !) you can't do anything about this beyond offering advice to your co-worker.
But note that the worst case scenario here is that your employer might simply fire your co-worker. That's why you should do nothing without that person's permission.
First off, is your coworker aware you know of his/her pay? Does he/she want you to be involved? Your coworker might not want your advice or input.
Secondly, in the US, there are legal reasons to pay someone less than minimum wage. Just as an example, if an employer chooses to hire a handicapped person who is incapable of handling all the duties assigned to a job, a prorated rate can be used legally.
However, if there is an issue and your coworker wants advice, contact the Virginia Employment Commission and speak to a representative there.