Protecting workers’ rights is a fundamental aspect of safeguarding the interests and welfare of individuals in the workplace.
Worker’s Rights – Frequently Asked Questions
Protecting workers’ rights is a fundamental aspect of safeguarding the interests and welfare of individuals in the workplace. These rights are intended to ensure that workers are treated equitably, with due respect for their dignity, and provided with working conditions that are safe and conducive to good health. The underlying principle behind these rights is to empower employees, promote equity, and balance power between employers and employees.
In today’s varied and dynamic workforce, the need to protect workers’ rights has become increasingly critical. It is therefore imperative that every worker is cognizant of their rights, enabling them to advocate for themselves and others in the workplace.
Look at some frequently asked questions involving workers’ rights.
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.