For more than 40 years, our team of nationally recognized employment lawyers has helped thousands of clients resolve workplace disputes, including wage and hour disputes, wrongful termination, whistleblower rights and protections, retaliation, discrimination, harassment, hostility, and workplace safety.
Employment law is a broad and complex practice covering the rights, obligations, and responsibilities of an employer and its employees. Numerous federal and state laws, regulations, and judicial precedent all inform the employer-employee relationship and define the rights and responsibilities of each.
If you feel your employer is violating your rights and protections as an employee, our employment and labor attorneys can help you through the process of seeking justice. At Beasley Allen, all of our lawyers live and work by the credo “helping those who need it most.”
Wage and Hour Laws
The U.S. Department of Labor is the regulatory agency that oversees employment laws at the federal level. The DOL oversees and enforces the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), a body of wage and hour laws that sets the minimum wage ($7.25 in 2020), overtime pay eligibility for hours worked over 40 in a workweek, and other compensatory time for U.S. employees.
While there are many companies that treat their employees fairly and legally, it is not uncommon for employers to violate labor laws and engage in various forms of employee wage theft. These could be as simple as paying workers below the minimum wage or not at all. But wage theft can also be the result of less obvious schemes, including promoting workers to “managerial” positions in title only to exempt them from overtime; forcing tipped workers to pool tips with non-tipped workers; or providing comp time instead of overtime pay, to name just a few.
When workers arrive at their job, they should have the comfort of knowing their employer is doing everything possible to ensure that they and their fellow workers can return home safely at the end of the day. Employers are bound to federal and state labor laws and regulations that govern workplace safety and serve to protect the health and well-being of workers. At the federal level, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulates issues of workplace safety and investigates claims of injury.
While OSHA sets workplace safety and health rules and regulations, it lacks the resources to adequately patrol every company for compliance. Without strict oversight, some employers may take advantage of their workers and even break the law. Employees who believe their employers are breaking the rules and putting them at risk of sickness, injury, or death may be afraid to speak out or suffer consequences if they do. If you find yourself in this position, our labor and employment attorneys are here to help.
Whistleblower Rights and Protections
Whistleblowers – employees, contractors, and subcontractors who risk their career, their reputation, and sometimes even their life to call out fraud and other wrongdoing – are protected by federal and state laws. These whistleblower protections prohibit employers from retaliating against employees who engage in “protected behavior,” such as reporting injuries, illegal activity, unsafe working conditions, and fraud, among others.
Beasley Allen’s team of employment lawyers understand the vital role whistleblowers play in holding companies and government entities accountable for fraud, waste, abuse, and other wrongdoing, and we have a solid record of helping whistleblowers get the compensation they need and deserve.
Every worker has a right to work in a safe and supportive environment, but for too many working Americans, the workplace can be an abusive and sometimes dangerous environment.
Employees may find themselves working under intolerable conditions for other reasons. Some of the most common forms of workplace hostility include:
- Whistleblowing: Employees who blow the whistle on wrongdoing within the workplace often suffer consequences. Retaliation may be swift or it could manifest in different forms over a longer time period. Some types of retaliation we often see include termination, demotion, suspension, isolation, penalties or sanctions, defamation of character, denial of benefits, denial of bonuses, and denial of promotions.
- Discrimination: A number of federal and state laws prohibit employers from discriminating against employees or job applicants on the basis of race, sex, orientation, age, disability, or national origin. Yet despite legal protections, some employers discriminate, either by creating a hostile and unfair environment or treating some employees more favorably than others.
- Harassment: Like discrimination, harassment can make an employee’s work environment incredibly hostile, abusive, and even frightening. Workers who are subjected to ridicule, slurs, threats, assault, offensive jokes, intimidation, sexual advances or other conduct of a sexual nature on the job should contact our employment lawyers for help.
Workers Compensation is a type of insurance that is supposed to help employees injured or sickened on the job. Often, however, claims for lost wages, medical care, vocational rehabilitation, and other expenses that incapacitated workers seek are denied by insurers. Claiming those benefits may also force a worker to forfeit future compensation and/or give up the right to sue their employer.
Choose the Right Employment Lawyers
At Beasley Allen, our employment attorneys truly are committed to helping you by seeking justice and fair compensation on your behalf for injuries and injustices suffered in the workplace. Our 85 lawyers are supported by a force of more than 275 support staff consisting of full-time nurses, investigators, computer specialists, technologists, a marketing department, a comprehensive trial graphics team, and many more.
If you feel your employer has violated your rights under federal and/or state employment and labor laws, your best first move is to contact a labor and employment lawyer. You can be confident knowing Beasley Allen’s team of experienced workplace lawyers have your back and will work to get you the compensation you deserve.
Frequently Asked Questions
Employment law is a complex practice covering the rights, obligations, and responsibilities of an employer and its employees. Numerous federal and state laws, regulations, and judicial precedent all inform the employer-employee relationship and define the rights and responsibilities of each.
Employment law is a broad area of the law that covers the rights, obligations, and responsibilities governing the employer-employee relationship. In the U.S., employers are bound to state and federal laws designed to protect employees from life-threatening working conditions and abuse rampant before the 1938 passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which established the minimum wage and set child labor standards, among other employee protections.
Today, employment and labor law encompasses a spectrum of work-related issues, including workers compensation, discrimination, labor relations, family and medical leave, immigration issues, employee benefits, minimum wage issues, occupational safety and health, wrongful termination, and social security and retirement (ERISA) issues.
The U.S. Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division requires employers to pay wages in an accurate and timely manner, and states may have additional wage laws mandating when employees should be paid.
Failure to pay wages on time or not at all is a violation of federal and state law. If you are experiencing problems getting paid, there are measures you can take. The first step is to speak with your employer and state your concerns in writing. If late payment or a payment error has caused you to accrue bank fees and other penalties, provide this information to your employer and give them a chance to remedy the problem.
However, if your employer refuses to pay you the wages you earned, you may file a wage claim with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division or your state labor department. If you do not file a wage claim, you may pursue a lawsuit against your employer for back pay, damages for financial hardship, and attorney and court costs. Taking legal action against your employer is the most effective way to recover pay that a wage claim may not cover, such as vacation and holiday pay.
Employment and labor laws encompass all the rights and obligations defining the employer-employee relationship. As an employee, you have rights protecting you from discrimination and harassment, wrongful termination, unlawful wage practices, unsafe and hostile working conditions, and in many cases, denial of overtime pay. Employees also have whistleblower rights that shield them from retaliation for reporting violations and other wrongdoing.
Most states have laws affording employees a large degree of privacy in the workplace. Privacy rights apply to personal possessions, such as handbags or briefcases, storage lockers, and private mail addressed only to the employee. While most employees have the right to privacy in their telephone conversations and voicemail messages, they have very limited rights to privacy in their e-mail and Internet activity while using the employer’s computer system.
You’re more than qualified for promotions that go to less experienced and skilled colleagues. Your coworkers always manage to get the holiday or weekend off while you’re stuck with the undesirable shifts. Your company had to downsize so your boss let you go because he or she favored others more. Employees with children enjoy greater freedoms and workplace flexibility than your coworkers without kids. The workplace may sometimes feel like a very unfair place to work.
But while unfair treatment in the workplace is demoralizing and frustrating, it’s not always grounds for a lawsuit. Valid legal claims usually arise when the unfair treatment you’ve experienced on the job violates a specific law, such as federal or state discrimination and wage laws, or the terms of your employment contract.
Employees who report a job injury, unsafe working conditions, wrongdoing, or other violations may find themselves demoted, harassed, threatened, or fired in retaliation for speaking out. In such a case, the unfair treatment may violate the employee’s whistleblower rights. If you feel that the unfair treatment you’ve suffered at work violates your rights as an employee, Beasley Allen’s highly experienced employment law attorneys can help you understand your claim and guide you through the process, from initial consultation to settlement or award.
Federal employment law requires employees with potential discrimination or harassment lawsuits to first file an administrative charge with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or a similar state agency. If you skip this legal requirement, then the court will find that you failed to exhaust your administrative remedies and dismiss your claim.
Of course, before you file a complaint with the EEOC or state agency, the first and most practical thing to do would be to confront the boss, coworker, or other person who is mistreating you. This will put the wrongdoer on notice and potentially start a dialogue through which the problem may be remedied. It may also help you document some important facts of the matter that could help you in the event that your problem amounts to a lawsuit.
In some cases, a direct conversation or other dialogue with the offender may not be an option. For instance, you may fear for your safety or feel you can’t endure the sheer stress of the situation. That’s ok. Your company should have proper protocols in place for you to file a complaint. Check the employee manual or consult with your company’s human resources department for the right procedure. Doing this will give your employer an opportunity to investigate and resolve the problem.
If your problem persists, then it is time to file an administrative charge with the EEOC or a similar administrative agency, which will send you a right to sue letter. That is when you need to contact a lawyer who can guide you through the process of whether, where, and when to file a formal complaint and what to include in it.
If you are applying for new jobs, you may worry about what your former employer might say about you if contacted. Can your former employer tell a prospective employer that you were fired for poor performance, that you quit without giving notice, or that you were frequently late or took excessive sick days?
As long as what the former employer says about you is factual and accurate, it is legally permissible under federal law, which doesn’t restrict the type of information employers say about former employees. State laws, however, may put more restrictions on the type of information that employers can share about their former employees, so it is best to check the labor laws specific to your state. Your state’s labor department should have that information available on its website.
Thousands of workers are injured or killed on the job every day in the U.S. If the injured worker belongs to a union, he or she or their family typically will receive a visit from a union official. The union will provide the contact information of a lawyer who can help them seek justice and damages for their financial losses, pain, and suffering.
But does the worker or his or her family have to call the union’s lawyer? The short answer is no. Although there may be benefits in using the union’s go-to lawyers, it’s not always beneficial to the employee or the family to seek counsel from a union lawyer.
If you have talked with your union’s lawyer and have lingering concerns about your case, doubts about the lawyer’s experience or skills, or a nagging suspicion that something isn’t quite right, it may be best for you to contact one of Beasley Allen’s experienced employment and labor attorneys for legal guidance.
In 2010, a Workplace Bullying Institute poll found that 37% of U.S. workers — 54 million people — believe they have been subjected to hostility in the workplace.
But while there may be many aspects of a job or workplace that an employee finds difficult or hostile (a nasty boss, a rude coworker, a workplace devoid of promotion and job growth, an unpleasant working environment, poor pay, etc.), U.S. labor laws have specific criteria for what constitutes a hostile workplace in the legal sense.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, a hostile work environment “can result from the unwelcome conduct of supervisors, co-workers, customers, contractors, or anyone else with whom the victim interacts on the job, and the unwelcome conduct renders the workplace atmosphere intimidating, hostile, or offensive.”
Under U.S. employment law, a variety of situations, including discrimination, harassment, wrongful termination and retaliation are some of the situations that make a workplace hostile in the legal sense.
Unless exempt, employees covered by the FLSA must receive overtime pay for hours worked over 40 in a workweek at a rate not less than time and one-half their regular rate of pay. The FLSA does not limit the number of hours employees aged 16 and older may work in any workweek and does not require employers to pay overtime for work on Saturdays, Sundays, holidays, or other regular days of rest, unless overtime is worked on such days.
The Act applies on a workweek basis. An employee’s workweek is a fixed and regularly recurring period of 168 hours — seven consecutive 24-hour periods. It need not coincide with the calendar week, but may begin on any day and at any hour of the day. Different workweeks may be established for different employees or groups of employees. Averaging of hours over two or more weeks is not permitted. Normally, overtime pay earned in a particular workweek must be paid on the regular payday for the pay period in which the wages were earned.
U.S. labor laws allow several exemptions to relieve an employer from having to meet the statutory overtime, minimum wage, and record-keeping requirements. The largest of these are executive exemptions, which apply to professional, administrative, and executive employees. Legal exemptions are narrowly defined and frequently abused. An employer must be able to prove that its employees fit plainly and unmistakably within the exemption’s terms, and not simply reclassify lower-level workers and supervisors as executives to avoid paying overtime.
Likewise, employers can’t simply exempt workers from the FLSA by calling them independent contractors. Many employers have illegally misclassified their workers as independent contractors in order to avoid paying overtime and other benefits because the FLSA doesn’t require employers to pay non-employees (independent contractors and volunteers) overtime.
Some state employment and labor laws offer even greater protections from overtime abuse than those afforded by the federal government.
Federal employment law does not require employers to offer employees paid lunch or coffee breaks. However, when employers do offer short breaks (usually lasting about 5 to 20 minutes), federal law considers those short breaks to be compensable work time that would be included in the sum of hours worked during the work week and also factored into determining whether the employee receives overtime.
Employers do not need to compensate employees for unauthorized extensions of authorized work breaks when the employer has expressly and unambiguously communicated to the employee that the break may only last for a specific length of time. The employer must also communicate to the employee that any extension of the break is contrary to the employer’s rules and will be punished.
Under U.S. employment and labor laws, meal periods, which typically last at least half an hour, do not have to be considered compensable work time.
Several states have stricter meal period and break laws than those offered by the federal government.
In the most basic sense, employment-at-will means that they can be fired at any time, for any reason except for a handful of reasons federal law considers illegal. In the real world, this means that your employer can decide to let you go with little explanation or cause, leaving you with very limited legal recourse.
Unless employers clearly communicate to employees that they only fire employees for a good cause, U.S. and state laws presume that you are employed “at will.” The only exception to this rule is Montana, which has labor laws protecting employees who have finished an initial probationary period from being fired without cause.
All but the smallest employers are bound to federal and state laws prohibiting job discrimination, so you cannot legally be fired because of certain personal characteristics, such as your race, religion, or gender.
U.S. employment law also protects you from being fired for “protected activities,” such as complaining about illegal activity, discrimination or harassment, and workplace health and safety violations. At-will employees are also protected from being terminated for exercising a multitude of legal rights, including the right to take family and medical leave, to take leave to serve in the military or to take time off work to vote or serve on a jury.
In the U.S., the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is the only federal law that guarantees leave to care for a newborn, a newly adopted child, or an ill family member: 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected time off for both mothers and fathers.
But not all employees are covered by the FMLA. The law applies only to companies with at least 50 employees, and the specific employee must have worked at the company for at least one year and a minimum of 25 hours per week. With these restrictions in place, roughly half of U.S. employees are entitled to medical leave.
Of course, being entitled to medical leave under the FMLA is one thing. Being able to afford it is another. About half of people who have FMLA protections don’t take it because it’s financially impossible or difficult.
Paid family leave is an optional benefit for U.S. employers to offer their employees. Approximately 13% of U.S. workers have access to paid family leave, but it is even less common among blue-collar employees who need the benefit the most.
Leaves of absence are usually extended periods of time that an employee takes off from work without pay due to a personal or life event. It is up to the employer whether employees may take leaves of absence, except in cases where the time off is legally required, such as time allotted by the FMLA, active-duty military service, and jury duty.