According to the U.S. Department of Labor, in order to address concerns regarding on-the-job accidents, starting in the early 1900s, the federal and state governments significantly expanded workplace regulations. Many sections of the old system that covered employee-management relations have been replaced with rules that give employees more rights at work. The regulations are vast and complex, but if you know some common definitions, you'll have an idea of your rights in the workplace.
Wages and Hours
The Fair Labor Standards Act governs federal wage and hour policies for most jobs in the United States. The act says that your employer must pay you at least the federal minimum hourly wage if you’re nonexempt and at least the minimum salary requirement if you’re salaried exempt. If you’re nonexempt, you must receive overtime pay if you work more than 40 hours a week. If you’re exempt, your employer doesn’t have to pay you overtime if you work more than 40 hours a week. Note that wages and hour laws are regulated on a state level as well. Additional laws may relate to minimum paydays, pay stubs, pay cuts, record-keeping, time-keeping, child labor, breaks, final paychecks, tips and paycheck deductions.
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, employees are entitled to a healthy and safe work environment. The act contains a set of minimum standards that employers must comply with, including providing workers with a hazard-free workplace. Employers must also give employees the necessary personal protective gear, tools and equipment and adequate safety training. Businesses with more than 11 employees must keep records of occupational injuries and illnesses. Your state may have its own health and safety program, which OSHA monitors.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 made it illegal for employers with at least 15 employees to discriminate against employees based on their race, color, gender, religion and national origin. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act forbids employers with at least 20 employees from discriminating against employees age 40 or older based on their age. The Americans with Disability Act prohibits employers with at least 15 employees from discriminating against disabled workers, as defined by the act. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission enforces these three discrimination laws. Workplace harassment is a violation of the Civil Rights Act, the ADEA and the ADA. Some states have discrimination laws that provide employees with even greater protection.
Under the Family Medical Leave Act, certain employers must give employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid work-protected leave during the birth or adoption of a child, or to care for their seriously ill spouse, child or parent. As an employee, you can also take time off to recuperate from your own serious illness. The state might offer more time-off benefits than federal law, including domestic violence leave, military leave, parental leave and time off to vote.
In some states, employers must carry workers’ compensation. In this case, if you experience an on-the-job illness or injury, you might qualify to receive partial pay for the days you’re not at work and to pay for your medical bills and rehabilitation.
Additional regulations relate to employment taxes, employee benefits such as health insurance and retirement plans, your right to privacy in the workplace such as cameras and video surveillance, your right to inspect your personnel file, hiring and termination rules, labor unions, immigration and protection from employer retaliation. You may want to consult your human resources department for clarification on the laws that apply to you. Or, contact the U.S. Department of Labor and the state labor department for federal and state labor policies.
- U.S. Department of Labor: Introduction: The Workplace and Society
- FLSA: FLSA Coverage
- Nolo: Your Rights Under Wage and Hour Laws
- Osha.gov: Recording and Reporting Occupational Injuries and Illnesses
- American Bar Association: Law and the Workplace
- Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: Harassment
- Nolo: Your Right to Time Off Work
- Massachusetts Trial Court, Law Libraries: Massachusetts Law About Employment Leave
- Nolo: Workers' Compensation Benefits
- U.S. Department of Labor: Fact Sheet #22: Hours Worked Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)
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