Employment law is a vast subject, and it can be difficult to grasp every aspect regarding employers' and employees' respective duties and rights. Fortunately, most employees never need to know everything there is to know about employment law, but there are certain basics every employee should know regarding 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. 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. Feel free to contact an attorney in our directory who is experienced in employment law to schedule a one-on-one consultation.
At-will employment is the default work arrangement for 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 advance notice, or refuse to honor, reduce, or remove paid time off for an employee. The only state where this is not allowed is Montana, where an employee may generally only be fired for cause.
At-will employment does not affect workers who are under contract. Workers under contract can only be dismissed under the terms of the written agreement, which may or may not contain an at-will dismissal clause, unless they engage in serious misconduct, fail to meet performance standards, or if the employer experiences a legitimate business need to reduce its workforce. However, even an at-will employee cannot be terminated for exercising their legal rights, nor can they be fired for discriminatory reasons. It should be noted, however, that the term “under-contract” in this context is a bit of a misnomer since at-will employees will, in the vast majority of cases, also have a contract with the employer setting forth the terms of the agreement, such as the duties and responsibilities of the employee and compensation and benefits.
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, both state and federal laws should be considered when determining if an employee is being paid correctly.
The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) imposes a federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. Some states have higher minimum wage rates, and some states have minimum wage laws that simply default to the federal rate. While Georgia and Wyoming laws have lower rates than the federal rate, employers in those states are still required to compensate their employees at the federal rate.
The second significant aspect of employee compensation addressed under the FLSA is overtime pay. 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 defined under the FLSA as seven consecutive 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 higher rate applies.
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 file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division.
It should be noted that certain classes of employees are exempt from the FLSA’s overtime provisions, including those in certain administrative or management positions, outside sales employees, and employees who are highly compensated.
In the most abstract sense of the word, discrimination is treating two categories of people or things differently. However, in the workplace, acts of illegal discrimination can be punishable to protect the rights of minorities, persons with disabilities, and employees from other classes that are protected under several federal acts, including the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as under state laws.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the federal agency charged with regulating and enforcing antidiscrimination laws. The EEOC defines discrimination as treating someone unfavorably because of a personal characteristic protected by law. These protected characteristics include:
Refusing to hire someone, giving them inferior pay or access to benefits, or firing employees based on a protected characteristic is generally considered unlawful discrimination.
A non-compete agreement is a contract that prevents an individual from working in or with other employers who are in the same industry. Non-compete agreements can be entered at any time but are most commonly requested during the hiring process, before a promotion or raise, or when an employee leaves the company. Non-compete agreements may also be used to prevent employees from soliciting or doing business with their employer’s clients or customers, using or disclosing the employer’s trade secrets or other information they had access to during their employment, such as customer lists.
When an employee is asked to sign a non-compete agreement, they must be offered something of value in return. If the non-compete agreement is 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's non-compete agreement.
While non-compete agreements may be enforceable as long as the company is protecting a “legitimate business interest,” they are subject to state laws that place strict limits on the duration, scope, and geographic area covered by the agreement.
The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a 1993 law that allows individuals to take up to 12 work weeks per 12 months of unpaid leave to care for certain family health conditions. Some of the valid uses of FMLA time off include:
It is important to note that not all employers and employees are covered under the FMLA. For example, private sector employers with fewer than 50 employees are not required to comply with the FMLA.
Sexual harassment is a form of sex-based discrimination and can include not only overt and explicit unwanted sexual behavior but also conduct that creates a hostile work environment. A hostile work environment is when an employee is subjected to unwelcome verbal or physical conduct that is so severe or pervasive that it creates a work environment that a reasonable person would find intimidating, hostile, or abusive.
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.
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 complaint or initiate a lawsuit in order to seek justice for the losses that you have suffered.
A skilled attorney with extensive experience in Employment Law 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 attorney will be able to gather evidence of your mistreatment and present that information in the most compelling way for your case.
Through AAL, you can find a number of experienced and dedicated 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.