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Employee Rights 101

Employee Rights 101

Employment law covers all rights and obligations within the employer-employee relationship, including not only current employees but also former employees and job applicants.

Many of the legal disputes involving businesses are related to employee rights and regulations. Because of the complexity of employment relationships and the wide variety of situations that can arise, employment law involves legal issues as diverse as:

Whether you're an employer, employee, or job seeker, understanding employee rights is crucial to a healthy and functioning workplace.

Employee Rights in the Workplace: An Overview

In most states, employees are afforded privacy in the workplace. This employee right applies to personal possessions, including handbags or briefcases, storage lockers accessible only by the employee, and private mail addressed only to the employee.

Employees may also have a right to privacy in their telephone conversations or voicemail messages. However, employees have very limited rights to privacy in their email messages and internet usage while using the employer's computer system.

Other important employee rights include:

  • Right to be free from unlawful discrimination and harassment
  • Right to a safe workplace free of dangerous conditions, toxic substances, and other potential safety hazards
  • Right to be free from retaliation for filing a claim or complaint against an employer, often called "whistleblower" rights
  • Right to legally determined wages for work performed

Rights Afforded to Job Applicants

Job applicants also have certain rights even prior to being hired as an employee. Those rights include the right to be free from discrimination based on age, gender, race, national origin, or religion during the hiring process.

For example, a prospective employer can't ask a job applicant certain family-related questions during the hiring process. Also, an employer may not conduct a credit or background check of an employee or prospective employee unless the employer notifies the individual in writing and receives permission to do so. In reality, however, discrimination and other violations involving job applicants may be difficult to prove.

Federal Laws Ensuring Employee Rights

There are a number of key federal laws protecting employees' rights, although state employment laws may provide even more protection to employees. For example, many states have higher minimum wage requirements than the federal guidelines. As a result, employers must comply with the state's minimum wage.

Federal employment laws include (but aren't limited to) the following:

  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from discriminating on the basis of​ race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. This applies only to employers with 15 or more employees.
  • Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, a person can't be discriminated against on the basis of their disability if that person can perform the essential functions of the job with or without reasonable accommodation​. The act defines a disability as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.
  • The Age Discrimination in Employment Act prevents employers from giving preferential treatment to younger workers to the detriment of older workers. This only applies to workers 40 years of age and older, and to workplaces with 20 or more employees. It doesn't prevent an employer from favoring older employees over younger employees.
  • The Fair Labor Standards Act establishes minimum wage, overtime pay, recordkeeping, and youth employment standards affecting employees in the private sector and in federal, state, and local governments​.
  • The Family and Medical Leave Act requires employers to allow employees to take up to a 12-week leave of absence for qualified medical purposes. It stipulates that, to qualify for the leave, the employee must have worked for the employer for 12 months and for 1,250 hours in the 12 months preceding the leave. It preserves qualified employees' positions for the duration of the leave.

Let an Attorney Help Protect Your Employee Rights

Employees have a variety of rights in the workplace, established under both federal and state laws. If you feel that your rights may have been violated in the context of your employment, it may be in your best interests to talk to an experienced employment attorney who will explain your options and protect your legal rights.

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

Or contact an attorney near you:

Next Steps

Contact a qualified employment discrimination attorney to make sure your rights are protected.

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