Regardless of whether you are classified as an at-will employee or have signed an employment contract, you are protected by both state and federal employment laws. These laws:
- Set the guidelines for safety and health standards;
- Dictate wage and hour regulations; and
- Establish the benefits to which employees are entitled by law.
Some of the most common examples of benefits that your employer generally must provide for you include:
However, it is imperative to note that not every employer is required to provide the same benefits and protections to every one of their employees. There are many loopholes and exemptions which must be considered. Eligibility factors can vary greatly even between different industries.
Generally speaking, eligible employees are provided with all of the protections that are included in the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”). Additionally, they may be provided with all of the protections that are listed in the labor code of the state in which they work. This generally applies even if you are interning for an employer; you should receive some sort of legal protection in the workplace.
Some examples of the most common employee protections include:
- Wage & Hour Protection: Currently, employers must pay all employees a wage that is no less than $7.25 an hour. This wage is the minimum amount that employers can legally pay their employees. Additionally, employers must pay all employees this wage for all hours that they worked.
- What this means is that employers cannot take an average, or pay you less than the minimum wage for some hours worked, and more for other hours worked;
- Overtime Protection: The FLSA does not limit the number of hours that an employee can work in a week, unless the employee is a minor. However, if an employee works more than 40 hours in one work week, they must be paid at least one and one half times their regular rate of pay for every hour that exceeds 40 hours. In addition to these FLSA laws, states have their own laws regarding overtime pay;
- Job Security: Generally speaking, employees either have a contract with their employers, or their employment is at will. An at will employee can be fired for any reason that is not discriminatory and/or illegal; meaning, they can be fired for no reason at all if their employer chooses to do so.
- If there is no contract which provides details regarding when the employee can be terminated from their position, an employer can fire an employee for anything that is related to their job. Examples of this include poor work performance, violation of company policy, and an excess of absences which are considered to be unacceptable to the company; and
- Discrimination Protection: Employment laws are largely intended to protect employees from discrimination or harassment in the workplace, and forbid employers from retaliating against you if you engage in whistleblowing. To reiterate, an employer cannot terminate an employee or refuse to hire a potential employee based on discriminatory factors such as race, age, religion, and gender.
What Is A State Employee? What Are Some Common State Employee Legal Issues?
A state employee is any person who is hired directly by the state. This can include, but may not be limited to:
- Court workers;
- Social workers; and
- Those employed in various state departments, such as the county attorney’s office.
These specific types of employees are generally subject to considerably specific state protections in terms of employment laws and employee protections. An example of this would be how state employees may have extended rights to be free from discrimination, as well as extended employee privacy rights. Some of these protections may extend to candidates for employment with the state, as well as to certain people who are under contract work with the state. However, this may depend on the specific contract terms.
Similar to other employment arrangements, state employees can face common legal issues such as:
- Disputes regarding wages, hours, and overtime pay as defined by individual state laws;
- Disputes involving promotions, advancements, and access to various benefits;
- Instances of discrimination, harassment, wrongful termination, and other such violations by the state employer;
- Hiring disputes;
- Violations of employee privacy rights, which are further discussed below; and
- Employee safety and occupational hazards.
Depending on their specific work and their position within the department, there are various other types of legal issues which may be faced by state employees. An example of this would be how hiring staff may face different legal and employment issues than supervisors.
What Is Privacy In The Workplace?
Because issues associated with employee privacy rights are considerably common, it is helpful to discuss workplace privacy as its own concept.
In comparison to a person’s private life, a person’s legal right to privacy in the workplace is considerably reduced. Because the workplace technically belongs to the employer, desks and offices may be subject to search. However, a locked desk drawer or a private conversation may receive more privacy protections compared to spaces that are considered to be more open. Work computers, email accounts, and phone systems may also be subject to increased monitoring.
An employee’s personal belongings, such as their cell phone, backpack, or purse generally carry a higher expectation of privacy. If something was stolen, or if the employee works in a sensitive or high-risk security position, the employer may be able to legally search employee belongings.
Government employees, such as state employees, have different due process rights than those who work in the private sector. If the policy states that you have a right to representation, it is often advised that you use it. Above all else it is important to remember that human resources and company lawyers are in place to protect the company, not you.
How Do State Employees File An Employment Complaint?
An employment complaint may be resolved by making a complaint with the department’s human resources (“HR”) division. The human resources staff may be able to sufficiently resolve the dispute, as well as prescribe a remedy for the claimant.
In more serious instances, it is recommended that the state employee file a claim with their state’s employment or labor department. This is a specific state-operated department that process claims associated with:
Under specific circumstances, there may be a direct filing route specifically for state employees.
Alternatively, state employees may be able to file a federal claim with a department, such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). However, it is imperative to note that the ability to file a federal claim for a state employment matter may be considerably limited.
If all other remedies have been exhausted, the state employee may be able to file a private lawsuit against their employer, or against other employees who may be involved in the conflict. However, most state laws require that the state employee file their complaint at the state department level before they can file a private civil lawsuit. When a lawsuit is filed, remedies for state employee legal issues generally involve filing for lost wages and/or recovering lost benefits.
Do I Need An Attorney For State Employee Legal Issues?
State employee legal issues can be especially complex when compared to other employee protection issues. If you are a state employee and are experiencing legal issues, you should consult with an experienced and local workplace lawyer.
An attorney will be best suited to helping you understand your legal rights and options according to your state’s specific laws. An attorney will also be able to represent you in court, as needed.