Employee Rights 101
Employment law covers all rights and obligations within the employer-employee relationship. These employee rights impact employees, former employees, and job applicants.
Many legal disputes involving businesses relate to employee rights concerning working conditions. Employment law involves legal issues as diverse as:
- Workers' compensation
- Labor laws
- Workplace safety
- Child labor
- Equal pay
- Unpaid leave
- Sick leave
Laws protecting employees' rights seek to improve the work environment for the nation's employees. Federal agencies, such as the following, administer employment laws:
- The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
- The U.S. Department of Labor
- The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
- The National Labor Relations Board
These agencies uphold and enforce many laws, including the ones discussed later in this article.
Employee Rights in the Workplace: An Overview
In most states, employees get a level of privacy in the workplace. This employee right applies to personal possessions. Personal possessions can include:
- Storage lockers accessible only by the employee
- Private mail addressed only to the employee
Employees may also have a right to private telephone conversations or voicemail messages. However, employees have limited rights to personal email and internet use while on the employer's system.
Other important employee rights can 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 before being hired as an employee. Those rights include the right to be free from discrimination based on:
- National origin
- Genetic information
- Sex, including sexual orientation, sexual harassment, and gender identity
For example, a prospective employer can't ask a job applicant certain family-related questions. Also, an employer must obtain consent to conduct a credit or background check of an employee or prospective employee. Although these rights exist, discrimination and other violations involving job applicants may be challenging to prove.
Federal Laws Ensuring Employee Rights
Several federal laws protect employees' rights. 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 law applies only to employers with 15 or more employees.
- Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), people can't be discriminated against based on their disability if they can perform the job's essential functions with reasonable accommodation. The act defines a disability as a physical or mental impairment substantially limiting 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 law applies to workers 40 and older and workplaces with 20 or more employees. It doesn't prevent an employer from favoring older employees over younger employees.
- The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) establishes federal minimum wage, overtime pay, the workweek, nonexempt workers, recordkeeping, and youth employment standards affecting employees in the private sector and federal, state, and local governments.
- The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires employers to allow eligible employees to take up to a 12-week leave of absence for qualified serious health conditions of yourself or certain family members. 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 and group health insurance.
- The Occupational Safety and Health Act aims to assure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women.
- The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) protects workplace democracy by providing employees at private-sector workplaces the right to seek better working conditions, with or without a labor organization, without fear of retaliation.
An Attorney Can Help Protect Your Rights
Employees have various rights in the workplace, established under. Federal and state laws establish these rights. If you feel that your rights may have been violated, talk to an experienced employment attorney. They can 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.
Contact a qualified employment discrimination attorney to make sure your rights are protected.