Employment Law FAQs

By James Parker
/
July 3, 2022

Employment law is a vast subject. Covering every aspect of an employer, employee, and company rights and responsibilities, employment law can seem impossible to fully understand. Fortunately, most employees never need to know everything there is to know about employment law, they just need to understand their rights and how to enforce them.

Even this pared-down goal can seem vast and unachievable. Employees understandably have questions about how this dense legal field protects them. In order to help people understand their rights as workers, AAL has put together a few of the most commonly asked questions about how employment law functions. If you have additional questions, feel free to reach out to one of our employment law attorneys to consult one on one.

What is “at-will” employment?

At-will employment is the default work arrangement of most businesses in the U.S. Under the at-will system, an employer hires employees and can terminate them for almost any or no reason. 

In addition to being able to terminate employment “at will,” employers in an at-will workplace can also raise or lower the wages of an employee at will, reduce or eliminate the benefits of an employee without providing notice, or refuse to honor, reduce, or remove paid time off for an employee. The only state where this is not the default arrangement is Montana, where an employee must generally be fired for cause.

At-will employment does not affect workers who are under contract. Contractual workers can only be dismissed under the terms of the written agreement, which may or may not contain an at-will dismissal clause. However, even an at-will employee cannot be terminated for exercising their legal rights, nor can they be fired for discriminatory reasons.

How do I know if I’m being paid the right wage?

In general, there are two things that employers must be mindful of when paying their employees: respecting the minimum wage and the laws of overtime compensation. In either case, state and federal laws should be considered when determining if an employee is being paid correctly. 

The federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. Some states have a higher minimum wage law and the federal law states that employers must pay the higher rate between the two. Some states have minimum wage laws that simply default to the federal rate while others have laws under the minimum wage that are rarely if ever valid.

The second major consideration for an employee’s pay is overtime. If an employee works more than 40 hours in a single workweek, then starting after the completion of the 40th hour, the employee must earn 150% of their wage. A workweek is any consistent period of 7 24-hour periods that can begin on any day of the week at any time. Some states have overtime laws that grant additional periods where overtime is paid, such as after the 8th consecutive hour of a workday or on the seventh day worked in a row. In these cases, the federal rate or an increased state rate for overtime will be applied.

If an employer is not paying minimum wage, has not paid employees for one or more workweeks, or has not given employees proper overtime, the employees may be able to make a complaint to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division. 

What is discriminatory behavior in the workplace?

In the most abstract sense of the word, discrimination is treating two categories of people or things differently. However, in the workplace, there are types of illegal discrimination that can be punishable in order to protect the rights of other employees. Several laws drive anti-discriminatory actions such as the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The government organization in charge of addressing employment is the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC defines discrimination as adverse outcomes for employees based on their:

  • Age
  • Color
  • Disability status
  • Genetic information
  • National origin
  • Race
  • Religion
  • Sex

Refusing to hire an employee, giving them inferior pay or access to benefits, or firing employees more quickly because of their membership in a group that falls under any of these categories is generally considered illegal discrimination.

What is a noncompetition agreement?

A noncompetition agreement is a contract that prevents an individual from doing business or seeking employment with certain employers once they leave their current workplace. A non-competition agreement can be requested at any time but is most commonly requested during the hiring process, before a promotion or raise, or when an employee is leaving the company. Under a noncompetition agreement, employees may be prevented from working within a certain industry for a certain period of time.

When an employee is asked to sign a non-competition agreement, they must be offered some incentive in return. If the non-competition agreement is being signed before they are formally hired, then employment can be considered the incentive, but an already-employed worker must be given some promotion or other incentive to sign the company non-competition agreement.

While non-competition agreements are generally enforceable as long as the company is protecting a “legitimate business interest,” noncompetition agreements have limits. Most non-competition agreements are limited to only two years in length and cannot be enforced in places where the former employer does not do business. 

How does the FMLA work?

The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a 1993 law that allows individuals to take up to 12 workweeks per 12 months of unpaid leave to take care of certain family health conditions. Some of the valid uses of FMLA time off include:

  • The birth of a child
  • The care of a newborn child within one year of birth
  • The placement of a child for adoption or foster care with the employee
  • Care for a newly placed child for adoption or foster care within one year of placement;
  • Caring for an employee’s spouse, child, or parent who has been diagnosed with a serious health condition;
  • Receiving treatment for a serious health condition renders the employee unable to perform the essential functions of their job.

The FMLA can also be used for taking care of family members who are on covered active military duty.

What is sexual harassment in the workplace?

Sexual harassment is a form of sex-based discrimination. When an individual behaves in such a  way that creates a hostile work environment on the basis of the individual’s sex. A hostile work environment is a workplace where the offensive behavior of an individual causes the victim of harassment to be unable to complete the duties of their job. 

Sexual harassment can include requests for sexual favors, persistent offensive jokes, or pranks on the basis of a worker’s sex. Sexual harassment can also include harassing behavior towards pregnant people, including asking invasive personal questions about the parent’s family life, marital status, or expected birth.

What should I do if I’ve suffered a violation of your employment rights?

If you have suffered a breach of your employment rights, whether during the hiring process while working for your employer, or after being dismissed, you may be able to file a lawsuit in order to seek justice for the losses that you have suffered. The best way to accomplish that goal is with an Employment Law attorney. 

An experienced Employment Law attorney can zealously advocate on your behalf in order to get you the best possible outcome for your case. Using their legal expertise, trial tactics, and expert witnesses, your Employment Law attorney will be able to gather evidence of your mistreatment and present that information in the most compelling way for your case.

AAL has a number of experienced and dedicated Employment Law attorneys who can help you seek the justice that you deserve.

 

*Disclaimer: Attorney At Law does not represent all lawyers in all states. There may be differences of opinion. It’s always advisable to consult with an attorney when in a legal situation.

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