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Employee Rights Overview: Your Guide to Labor Laws

The labor movement in the United States gained momentum in the mid-19th century. During this time, workers attempted to get higher wages and better working conditions. Today, unions continue to fight for employee rights through the power of collective bargaining.

Different employee rights have been emphasized throughout the history of the labor movement. Some of the more common labor rights championed by the labor movement in the U.S. are described below.

Early Labor Rights

During the 19th century, many viewed collective bargaining as a criminal conspiracy. Even when it was allowed, employers often retaliated against workers who joined a union. The right to unionize was finally recognized in the 20th century.

The National Labor Relations Act of 1935 is one of the most significant pieces of federal legislation. It protects employees' rights to form and join a union. It also prohibits retaliation and other unfair labor practices. Additionally, there's the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act. This Act details and protects the rights of members within a union.

Working Hours

The labor movement has long advocated for reasonable limitations on the number of hours worked. Movements advocating for a 10-hour workday, and later an eight-hour workday, emerged in the 19th century. Federal laws, like the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), established standards for the number of hours an employee can work in a workweek. These laws ensure that employees are compensated for hours worked beyond the standard workweek.

Wages and Benefits

The labor movement has long advocated for fair compensation. This includes employee wages and employee benefitsFederal and state laws establish minimum wage rates for all workers. Employers must pay employees at least the federal minimum wage.

Also, employers must provide overtime pay for hours worked beyond a certain threshold. This is typically calculated at one-half times the regular rate of pay. The U.S. Department of Labor's (DOL) Wage and Hour Division oversees the enforcement of federal minimum wage laws. It also oversees requirements for payment of wages and overtime pay within designated pay periods.

Additionally, many employers offer employee benefits such as health insurance and retirement plans. These benefits contribute to employees' financial security and well-being. Employee benefits are an integral part of total compensation packages. They reflect an employer's commitment to supporting their workforce beyond basic wages.

Health and Safety

Employees have the right to work in a healthy and safe environment. Early labor movements fought for workplace safety standards. This includes benefits like sick leave and medical leave. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) plays a crucial role in protecting these rights by enforcing regulations that promote safe working conditions.

Furthermore, employees are entitled to certain protections under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The FMLA provides eligible workers with unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons. Additionally, workers who suffer injuries or illnesses on the job may be entitled to workers' compensation benefits. Worker's compensation covers medical expenses and lost wages.

Human Trafficking

An obvious labor right is the right to choose your employment and to be free from coercion and forced labor. Unfortunately, many people are denied these rights because of human trafficking. This often happens in the context of sexual harassment and exploitation. The Trafficking Victims Protection Act aims to combat this issue. This legislation protects victims of forced labor and sexual exploitation.

Workplace Discrimination

Labor rights encompass the fundamental right to be free from discrimination in the workplace. Both state and federal laws uphold the principle of equal pay for equal work. They also prohibit employment discrimination on various grounds. This includes race, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, and sexual orientation. These civil rights protections aim to create an inclusive and equitable work environment. Everyone deserves to be free from harassment and discrimination in the workplace.

Whistleblower Protections

Certain laws protect the rights of whistleblowers to voice employer wrongdoing without fear of retaliation. One of these laws is the Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA). The WPA protects employees who disclose information about legal violations or abuse by their employer. Whistleblower laws vary in terms of who is covered and the types of actions that are protected. Efforts are ongoing to strengthen whistleblower rights and protections.

Rights of Veterans and Military Personnel

Specific federal laws safeguard the labor rights of military personnel. They include the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) and the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA).

These laws offer protections and benefits to those who have served in the military. For instance, veterans receive preferences for employment with the federal government. Military personnel also have the right to reemployment. This means they can return to their pre-service employers upon completion of active duty.

Protect Your Labor Rights With the Help of an Attorney

There are many more labor rights in addition to the ones outlined above. Employee rights continue to strengthen, and labor laws regularly change. If you're unsure about your rights as a worker, contact a local employment law attorney for legal advice.

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