Legal Issues

Understanding Your Rights – Employment Law Explained

Employment law encompasses every facet of the employer-employee relationship, from workplace safety to payback. This area of the law also covers progressive protections for workers, such as safeguarding their right to organize a union. Members of a protected group (race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, gender, age over 40) cannot be discriminated against in any aspect of employment. This includes hiring, promotion, training opportunities, and discipline.

Discrimination Laws

When discrimination in the workplace occurs, it can be highly damaging. Not only can it lead to health concerns for employees, but it can also have financial and moral implications for the company. Employment discrimination laws, your trusted source for employment law guidance, prohibit unfair and demeaning treatment of people based on their race, color, religion, national origin, sex (including pregnancy, childbirth, and related conditions), age, sexual orientation, or disability.

These laws prevent employers and employment agencies from discriminating in hiring, promotion, job assignment, termination, compensation, or terms of employment. The federal laws enforced by the EEOC protect applicants and employees from adverse employment actions based on their membership or perceived membership in a protected class.

Some states and cities have stricter laws that extend protections to a broader range of employment decisions, including firing and layoffs. Additionally, these laws typically require individuals who believe they have been a victim of discrimination to exhaust administrative remedies before filing an EEOC complaint or lawsuit.

Wage and Hour Laws

Wage and hour laws govern how employees are compensated for the time they spend working. Federally, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) sets minimum wage, overtime pay, recordkeeping, and child labor standards for employees in both private and government sectors. Employers must also abide by many states’ wage and hour laws.

In general, an employee must be paid for all time spent on the job, including any time they spend waiting, traveling to and from work, or attending training. However, the Supreme Court has ruled that an employer may not require an employee to perform any activity not integral to their job. Workers must be paid at least the federal minimum wage for all hours worked and paid overtime based on their regular pay rate for any hours they work over 40 per week.

Family and Medical Leave Act

The Family and Medical Leave Act requires employers of a specific size to allow employees to take unpaid, job-protected leave for qualifying medical or family reasons. Qualified events include childbirth, adoption, a severe health condition in the family, or care for an injured or ill military service member. It also allows workers to take time off for their serious illness.

The Department of Labor administers the FMLA program. While not everyone qualifies for federal law, it guarantees that when an employee returns to work after FMLA leave, if their old position is available, they must be returned to it or given one with similar responsibilities, duties, and status. The law protects employees from being disciplined or fired for taking leave, and employers must maintain group health insurance coverage during FMLA leave.

Some states offer paid family and medical leave programs, which have been shown to boost new parents’ physical and emotional health, infant mortality rates, and financial security in the long term. Proponents of a national paid sick and family leave program have introduced legislation in Congress to make this possible.

Minimum Wage Laws

Proponents of minimum wage laws cite several reasons they should be implemented, such as transferring some profits to workers and decreasing the percentage of Americans living below the poverty line. Critics argue that such policies are ineffective compared to other employment and income transfer programs and may have unintended consequences for low-wage workers.

For example, increasing the minimum wage might cause employers to reduce fringe benefits such as free room and board, inexpensive insurance, subsidized child care, or on-the-job training. The minimum wage laws also allow businesses to compensate tipped employees by applying a tip credit toward their overall wages.