Seeing as we spend a large portion of our time at work, ensuring our workplaces address our needs is vital to establishing a reciprocated exchange: a happy workforce most often translates to thriving business results. Sadly, there’s been a rising number of cases recently where employers neglect the legal protections of their workers in the name of higher profits. If you aren’t sure of your rights in the workplace, or how to respond if you feel mistreated, read on.
Businesses that follow the letter but not the spirit of employment law often face a backlash from their staff and/or substantial financial penalties from government agencies.
Employment laws provide guidelines and regulations for employees and employers alike to offer protection and structure in the workplace. Their respective importance cannot be overstated – employment laws establish the foundation for our economic system. When a business violates any of these laws, they risk grave consequences like government fines and legal actions, but also directly threaten the wellbeing of their employees.
Employment law is a complex discipline spanning local, state, and federal levels, which is why law offices like the one of Omid Nosrati have dedicated their practice to representing employees in these legal disputes. Below we will look at some of the areas that employment law covers and their importance for both employers and workers.
The employment-at-will rule is one of the most important protections in US labor law. This rule states that an employer can discharge an employee at any time for any reason or no reason at all. The rule also gives employees the right to resign from their position, with or without notice and/or severance payments as they see fit. However, government and private employers cannot discriminate against an employee based on: race, sex, national origin, religion, age (over 40), disability or pregnancy status.
Employment-at-will does not protect companies who retaliate against employees for filing complaints about company policies such as harassment claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 . For example: An employer may not fire a worker for reporting a violation to OSHA or refuse to hire a worker after finding out they previously filed a complaint against their employer.
This does not give employees the right to file lawsuits when they believe their termination was unjustified. In fact, most attorneys advise that unless you have a written agreement specifying terms of employment, immediately challenge your employer in mediation and/or arbitration before filing any claims in court. If an employee sues under employment-at-will, the company will claim the termination was justified and job performance issues were at play, which can lead to complicated litigation processes.
Discrimination is a prevalent issue that can come in many forms. A company may refuse to hire someone based on their age, promote them due to their race, or even fire a member of a certain religion. Accordingly, discrimination laws have been put in place to stop employers from refusing equal opportunities for employees based on a number of characteristics.
Discrimination laws protect individuals, but their importance expands to creating a fair and just society for all workers. They may vary from state to state but generally span over genetics, nationality, religion, sex, and disability. Most of these legal protections are at both a state and federal level, but specific statutes may depend on the number of employees in a company.
Minimum Wage And Working Hours
Before the establishment of minimum wage employment laws, determining how much employees were paid lay exclusively in the hands of employers. Since then, however, statutes have protected workers from receiving less than is necessary for covering their basic costs of living. Similarly, employment laws limit the number of working hours allowed. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) regulates minimum wage and overtime pay requirements as well as child labor laws for both private and public sector businesses operating domestically . It states that an individual must be paid at least $7.25 per hour and not more than 40 working hours per week, unless they are deemed exempt by their profession
The federal minimum wage in the United States has been $7.25 per hour since 2009, with exceptions to some types of jobs such as tipped labor – where the minimum income includes the tip – and training wages. However, states are allowed to set their own minimum wage, with 29 states having a minimum wage higher than the federal one as of 2018. Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, regular working hours typically add up to 40 hours per week.
Jury Duty And Anti-Discrimination
The right to trial by a jury of peers is a staple of US law, and employment laws seek to ensure that employers do not discriminate against employees who wish to serve. In accordance with federal statutes, nearly all full-time employees are eligible for jury duty leave as long as their employers provide it. Employers may also not discriminate against applicants or members of staff because they have served before.
Occupational Safety And Health
OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) is the regulating entity for workplace safety in the United States at the federal level. Before its creation in 1970, there were many local, state, and federal laws in its place, but their enforcement and regulation were largely sporadic and unbalanced.
Workplace safety and health statutes cover areas like working conditions, machinery, noise levels, temperature, electrical and other hazards, and extreme vibrations. Accordingly, they also cover repetitive work injuries, biological and chemical hazards, as well as long working hours. They were generally established to cover workplaces where such extreme or dangerous circumstances are present and are crucial for the protection of workers in cases where employers are negligent or refuse to take responsibility.
An employment-at-will relationship is typically defined by having an indefinite period of time, being for no set period, or being terminated at any point when either the employer or employee decides to break it off. As implied by its name, this type of employment allows employers to dismiss personnel without notice and without providing a reason for termination. The fact that neither party needs to specify how much notice should be given means that in practice the length ranges from immediate to one month in most cases.
Since the 1970s courts have begun ruling against the freedom of employees’ rights based on implicit contract theory which states that termination can only take place under certain conditions stipulated by law . Consequently, employment at will has been replaced by implied contract or wrongful termination in most states.
Right To Privacy
Potentially related to discrimination, employees’ right to privacy is on the forefront of legislative activity and public concern . As this area of law continues to expand, whether employers can monitor employees while at work has become a key issue. Some instances where an employer may be entitled to access their worker’s accounts and devices include: when there is suitable cause for suspicion; when utilizing tools like CCTV cameras; and when accessing electronic accounts such as desktops, laptops, tablets, etc. If individuals believe they have rights under federal laws protecting personal data, then it is important that they seek professional legal support from an experienced employment lawyer.
Genetic Testing And Other Preventative Measures
More frequently, concerns over privacy are in relation to high-risk jobs where it is important to screen workers. Under the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), employers may not request genetic information about an employee or prospective hire in order to determine their eligibility for employment . There are various other laws in place that aim to protect employees’ right to privacy when it comes to drug testing and medical exams, which will be addressed further on.
Whistleblower Protection And Retaliation Laws
Employee whistleblowing is protected by federal law through statutes such as Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 under the U.S. Securities Exchange Commission . It was passed after a series of corporate scandals revealed how companies were reporting false financial data. As a result, it was implemented in order to safeguard employees from being retaliated against for reporting accounting fraud or other securities violations .
In 2013, President Barack Obama signed Executive Order 13672 which prohibits employers from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity . In addition, growing concern is also being shown towards employer discrimination based on religion and race.
Family And Medical Leave
Apart from safeguarding against extreme circumstances in the workplace, employment law aims to protect workers in cases of extenuating personal circumstances, such as family or health issues. The Family and Medical Leave Act protects employees – and their jobs – when they need to take a leave of absence in such situations, with a guarantee of up to 12 weeks.
Reasons for taking leave may include childbirth, adoption, family or personal illness, and military leave. The act also ensures a continuation of insurance coverage and job protection throughout the leave period. Once the employee returns to work, they can either continue at their previous job or, if it’s no longer available, they must be offered a job equal in pay and status.
Employment law is based on the recognition of rights and responsibilities in the employee-employer relationship. It governs over areas like discrimination, minimum wage and working hours, occupational safety and health, and family and medical leave, among others. These regulations and acts are crucial for the protection of workers and their rights to fair treatment and compensation.
In some cases, employees may need professional assistance when dealing with wrongful treatment, in which case it’s advisable to seek out the help of an experienced attorney. This is important for taking proper legal action and getting the rightful opportunities they deserve.