Employment law describes a wide range of legal issues associated with employees, employers, and safety conditions in the workplace. Some employment laws will apply to a case that involves employment discrimination, while other employment laws provide guidance when drafting company policies or employee handbooks.
Essentially, employment law is intended to protect all of those who are part of the workforce. This includes, but may not be limited to:
- Protecting employees when involved in disputes against a colleague, an employer, or a company;
- Prohibiting businesses from discriminating against prospective job candidates and current employees in the interviewing, hiring, promoting, or terminating process;
- Granting specific rights to those who are self-employed, or are considered to be independent contractors; and
- Ensuring that volunteers and interns are not subjected to sexual harassment, discrimination, or retaliation in the workplace.
It is important to note that employment laws vary from state to state. What this means is that the rights that are provided by one state may not be available as a protection under the laws of another state. Additionally, some issues may be governed by both state and federal employment laws. An example of this would be maternal and/or parental leave.
Before discussing employee rights, it is helpful to discuss some of the different types of employment, as well as some of the ways in which employees may be categorized. The federal laws known as the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and the Internal Revenue Code (IRC) provide several ways to classify employees. More specifically, these federal laws divide workers into two main categories of employment, either employees or independent contractors.
Some examples of the many different types of employment include, but may not be limited to:
- Full time or part time employment;
- Seasonal or temporary employment;
- Independent contractors;
- Consultants; and/or
- Temporary workers, which differs from being a temporary employee.
This is important because each specific type of employment will determine:
- What benefits the employee is entitled to;
- What rights they have as a worker;
- Whether they qualify for certain perks, such as worker’s compensation; and
- What sort of tasks the employer will legally be obligated to do, such as withholding income taxes.
What Are Employee Rights? What Are Some Common Examples of Employee Rights?
As previously mentioned, state and federal employment laws provide many different rights and protections that employees obtain once they are legally hired by their employer. Employers are legally required to provide these rights, depending on how the worker is classified.
Employee rights are generally enforceable once the worker begins their employment, or signs their employment contract. Rights are terminated once the employer-employee relationship is terminated. However, there are some employee rights that can be enforceable before or after employment. An example of this would be rights involving hiring or retirement.
Some common examples of employee rights include, but may not be limited to:
- The right to be paid their state’s minimum wage;
- The right to be protected from various forms of workplace discrimination, at all stages of the employment process;
- Privacy rights in the workplace, although the scope of such privacy rights will largely depend on the nature of the employment; and
- Various rights regarding leave for disability, or absences as qualified by the FMLA.
Additionally, individual employees may obtain rights that are specific to the terms in their employment contract. An example of this would be how some employment contracts may include a provision which states that the employee will not be terminated prior to a certain date. Employment contract terms will depend on each individual employment arrangement, as well as the specific job.
Many of the employee rights that are provided by employment laws involve the well-being and safety of employee conditions in the workplace. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, enforces laws and policies intended to protect employees from dangerous conditions and unsafe work environments.
An example of this would be an employer who refuses to repair equipment or a building. This then develops into a larger issue which exposes their employees to toxic chemicals. An employee whose health has been negatively affected by the chemicals would be allowed to submit a complaint to OSHA, who will then investigate the complaint and determine whether sanctions should be issued against the employer.
What Should I Do If I Have Faced Discrimination?
Some of the most common employee rights violations concern discrimination. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), which is a federal employment discrimination law, states that it is illegal for an employer to discriminate against a current employee or prospective job candidate when they belong to a protected class.
Some examples of protected classes include:
- Gender identity or representation;
- National origin;
- Race or color; and
- Other characteristics that specifically define protected categories of people.
Because of this Act, if an employer makes a decision based on one of these protected traits, the employee will likely be allowed to file a claim for employment discrimination in a court of law. This applies to the hiring, firing, or promoting of an employee.
There are some cases in which an employee or prospective candidate may bring a lawsuit against an employer who advertises in such a way that it discriminates against protected traits. An example of this would be how an employer cannot state in a job description that they will only hire those of a certain race, or those who are not disabled. Doing so would be grounds for a lawsuit.
Those who are facing discrimination should first contact their employer’s human resources department to pursue a resolution to their issue. It is generally required that the employee “exhausts all administrative remedies” before taking their issue to the EEOC, or, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. If the HR department cannot produce a solution, the employee should then file a complaint with the EEOC.
The EEOC will most likely investigate the employer and produce a solution. If this is still insufficient, the EEOC will provide the employee with a Right to Sue letter. From there, the employee may decide to file a discrimination lawsuit against their employer.
What If Other Employee Rights Have Been Violated?
Beyond discrimination, there are many different ways in which violations of employee rights can occur. An employer may violate the employee’s rights regarding workplace privacy, or the employer may fail to pay the employee overtime wages in accordance with the overtime standards of their state.
If any of an employee’s rights have been violated, they should compile evidence such as:
- Pay stubs;
- Employer statements;
- Copies of communication, such as emails; and
- Witness statements from their coworkers.
As previously mentioned, the employee should begin by filing a claim with the company human resources department, and then with an agency such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
In more serious cases of employee rights violations, the employee may decide to file a private lawsuit if a government investigation has not properly remedied the situation. Available remedies will most likely depend on the violation. An example of this would be how a violation of wage rights may result in a damages award in order to compensate the employee for their lost wages.
Do I Need a Lawyer For Employee Rights?
If you feel your rights as an employee have been violated, you should consult with an experienced and local workplace lawyer as soon as possible. Working with an area attorney is recommended, as employee rights and laws vary widely from state to state.
A workplace lawyer can help determine whether your legal rights have been violated, and how you should proceed. Finally, an attorney will also be able to help you gather evidence to support your claim, and even represent you in court, as needed.