Federal employment laws usually state a minimum threshold requirement for employee rights and workplace disputes.  State laws must abide by these federal guidelines, and many states usually adopt some form of an existing federal statute.  They may follow the general outline of the federal law, and then modify it to fit the needs of their particular population.  Usually the state law provides greater protections than federal laws.

What are Some Examples of Differences With State Versus Federal Employment Claims?

One common example of the differences between state and federal employment law claims is with regards to minimum wages.  Federal laws may set national limits for the minimum wage.  However, states can set minimum wage limits that are higher than the federal minimum wage rate, but not lower.  This is an example of how state employment laws can often be stricter than federal laws. 

Other areas of differences with State and Federal employment law claims include:

  • “Right to work”:  Many states include statutes preventing employees from having to pay union dues in order to work.  There are about 22 states with such laws, but there is no federal right-to-work law.
  • Safety and Health:  The Occupational Health and Safety Act (OSHA) governs work safety and health standards at the federal level.  Many states have enacted their own version of an OSHA statute, which enforces stricter standards than the federal OSHA requirements.
  • Unions:  State and federal laws may also differ with regards to Unions and their interaction with the work environment.  At the federal level, the National Labor Relations Board governs claims involving unions.  States may have their own department that processes local union claims.
  • Others:  There may be many other areas where state and federal laws differ; this will depend on the issue involved in each individual state

What if I Have an Employment Dispute?  Do I File With the State or With a Federal Agency?

Generally speaking, you are required to file your employment dispute claim with a state agency first.  Your state agency will conduct an investigation into your claim and may prescribe a possible remedy.  In some cases, the state employment division will also contact a federal employment or labor agency if action is needed at the federal level. 

Each state has a different name for its employment division.  For instance, there is the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC), the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), etc.  You may also need to file with a state agency before you can file a private lawsuit.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help With State or Federal Employment Laws?

Employment laws can often be very complicated, both at the federal and state levels.  If you need assistance with any employment law issues, you may need to hire an experienced employment lawyer in your area.  Your attorney can tell you how federal laws work, and how your state’s laws may also apply to your case.  Your attorney can provide you with advice and representation throughout the process.