Federal employment laws usually establish minimum threshold requirements for employee rights and workplace disputes. Employers in all states must respect federal law related to employment and the rules of workplaces.
State laws must be in accordance with these federal guidelines, and many states adopt some form of existing federal statutes as their state employment laws. They may modify the federal law to fit the needs of their particular population and their political priorities. Generally, state laws provide greater protection than federal laws.
What Are Some Examples of Differences between State and Federal Employment Claims?
One common example of the differences between state and federal employment laws concerns the minimum wage. Federal law sets the national standard for the minimum wage. States are allowed to set minimum wage rates that are higher than the federal minimum wage rates, but cannot go lower. This is an example of how the requirements of a state employment law can exceed those of the federal law on the topic.
Other areas of difference between state and federal employment laws include:
- “Right to work”: Many states have statutes preventing employees from being required to pay union dues if they work in a unionized workplace. Approximately 22 states have these so-called “right to work” laws, but there is no federal right-to-work law;
- Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA): The federal “Occupational Safety and Health Act” (OSHA) sets standards for health and safety in workplaces. Many states have enacted their own versions of the OSHA, which establishes stricter standards than the federal OSHA requirements;
- Labor Unions: State and federal laws may also differ with respect to labor unions and their interaction with employees in the workplace. At the federal level, the National Labor Relations Board governs all aspects of labor unions, union organizing and the interaction of employers and unions. States may have their own departments of labor that deal with union-related claims in the state;
- The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA): This federal act comprises laws that provide standards for many aspects of employment, but most importantly, rules regarding overtime and minimum wage rates. It also sets standards for keeping records of hours, wages and youth employment for workers in both the private and public sectors. Again, states may set more stringent standards;
- The Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA): This act regulates employer-provided pension plans and the fiduciary, disclosure, and reporting requirements for these plans. ERISA does not apply to all private employers and does not require companies to offer plans to workers, but it does set standards for plans, in the event employers do offer them.
- The Family Medical and Family Leave Act (FMLA): The FMLA requires employers with more than 50 employees to give workers as much as 12 weeks of unpaid leave for the birth or adoption of a child, the serious illness of the employee or their spouse, child, or parent, or emergencies related to a family member’s active military service.
- The leave is job-protected, meaning that the employee has the right to return to the position they left to take their leave. The coverage may be extended for up to 26 weeks of unpaid leave during a 12-month period for an active service member who becomes seriously ill or is injured in the line of duty;.
- Civil Rights Acts: There are several laws that ban discrimination on the basis of gender. Among them are Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Equal Pay Act of 1963, and the Civil Rights Act of 1991.Federal law protects workers who are discriminated against because of age, disability, genetic information, national origin, pregnancy, race or skin color, religion, or gender.
- Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA): The ADA makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against job applicants or employees based on disability. In addition, employers must make reasonable accommodations to enable disabled employees to perform the duties of their jobs;
- Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (Cobra): COBRA gives workers whose employment is terminated the right to continue their health insurance coverage at their own expense;
- The Affordable Care Act – Nursing Mothers: Under the provisions of the ACA, employers must provide nursing mothers with a private room for nursing-related activities and time for them;
- Child Labor Laws: These laws and regulations restrict the type of employment in which children may engage and regulate working hours for minors;
- Compensatory Time: These laws regulate when employers can offer paid time off instead of overtime pay for overtime hours worked;
- Employee Drug Testing: Depending on a work’s industry, drug testing may be regulated by state and/or federal law;
- Employee or Independent Contractor: There are laws that determine whether a worker is considered an employee or an independent contractor under the law. The distinction affects earnings, taxes and other terms and conditions of employment;
- Others: There are many other areas in which state and federal laws and regulation affect the workplace and may be different. If a person has a problem at work, it is always a good idea to consult an employment law attorney in order to learn whether a state or federal law may help them.
What if I Have an Employment Dispute? Do I File With the State or With a Federal Agency?
Generally speaking, an employee who has a dispute with their employer that may involve both federal and state laws is required to file their dispute claim with the appropriate agency in their state first. If their state does not have its own state laws that apply or an agency that enforces them, then, of course, the employee would file their claim with the appropriate federal agency first.
If a person submits a claim to the appropriate state agency, it conducts an investigation into the claim and may prescribe a possible remedy. In some cases, the state agency may also contact a federal employment agency or the U.S. Department of Labor, if it believes that action is required at the federal level.
Each state has a different name for its employment or labor agency or department. For example, in Texas there is the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC); in California there is the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). Maryland has a Department of Labor and Michigan has a Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity. Florida also has a Department of Labor. A person may want to direct their claim to a division of a labor department. All of these departments and commissions have websites where a person can find helpful information.
A person may also need to file their claim with a state agency before they 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. In addition to legal complexities, there may be special procedures involved in prosecuting a claim. If you need assistance with any employment law issues, you should consult an experienced workplace 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.