Employee rights is a broad-based area of law that can be daunting to any employer, yet is critical if the employer wishes to avoid costly and time-consuming government investigations and lawsuits. Employee rights stem from a wide range of both state and federal statutes, requiring an employer to either invest in significant research and constant updating of legal knowledge or to retain a labor and employment attorney who can guide the employer and take responsibility for staying informed about developments in the law or its application.
Employee Rights Law
Specific employee rights are addressed in greater detail elsewhere on this website. Below you will find an overview of the key areas of employee rights law a business must take into account when formulating policies or making decisions with regard to specific employees or groups of employees.
Employees have a right to freedom from discrimination on the basis of age, sex, religion, race, color, genetic information, pregnancy, or disability. These rights may extend beyond the obvious application of the term. For example, sexual harassment is prohibited by anti-discrimination laws, without regard to the sex of the complainant.
In some states, this list is longer. For example, discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation is prohibited in some jurisdictions.
These protections extend beyond clear-cut examples like opting to hire a person of one race over another based on race, and may include questions asked at interviews, language employed in job postings, testing and application processes, and even practices that have an unintentional disparate impact on a protected group.
At the federal level, employees have a right to receive at least the federally-mandated minimum wage for all hours worked. In addition, employees are entitled to an overtime rate of 1.5 times their regular hourly rate for each hour in excess of 40 worked in a week. Employers are also entitled to receive pay in a timely manner.
This area of employee rights varies considerably from state to state as many states have higher minimum wage thresholds than the federal government, require double-time under certain overtime circumstances or on designated days, and may specify a shorter turnaround time for payment of wages than federal law.
Legally-Mandated Employee Leave
Federal law mandates that employees of companies with 50 or more employees receive up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in a 12-month period if the employee needs that leave due to a medical condition or to provide care to a close family member who is experiencing serious medical problems. As in other areas of employment law, some states have created higher standards than the comparable federal law. For example, in a few states employers are obligated to offer paid sick leave to employees.
Employee Privacy Rights
Employers are legally permitted to observe and log much of what takes place in the workplace, including some access to employee email accounts and other digital files. However, there are limitations that some employers may not be aware of. For example, while the installation of security cameras in general office areas is generally permissible, audio recording in those same areas may constitute a crime.
It is important that employers understand exactly what they do and do not have access to and what privacy rights employees retain in the workplace.
Collective Bargaining Rights
The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) provides broad protection to workers with regard to discussion of wages, collective bargaining, providing related information to coworkers and even organizing a union. Employers who are unaware of these protections often run afoul of this law through honest mistakes, such as prohibiting employee discussion of wages that is intended to avoid workplace tensions.
The Right to Freedom from Retaliation
Various state and federal statutes protect employees against employer retaliation for various actions, from filing a worker’s compensation claim to reporting violations of the law to a government agency. When a conflict has arisen between the employer and employee, it may seem logical to terminate the relationship before the situation escalates. However, if the employee is classified as a whistleblower or protected by another non-retaliation provision, such action may escalate the employer’s problems.
Get an Experienced Labor and Employment Lawyer on Your Team
The above is just a sampling of the employee rights a business must take into account when creating policies, writing handbooks, designing testing and application procedures, interacting with individual employees, and otherwise making business decisions. The interplay of state and federal laws and, in some cases, even local ordinances, can be complicated. The knowledge required to protect your business is broad.
An experienced labor and employment attorney can take the lead in ensuring that your business is compliant with state and federal regulations, and protecting you from missteps should a conflict arise. Contact KPPB LAW for more information.