More than 180 federal laws that govern workplace activities are enforced by the U.S. Department of Labor. These laws cover approximately 10 million companies and 125 million employees. Among the many laws, certain of the federal employment laws are important for workers. These laws regulate wages, discrimination, hiring, salary, hours, benefits, employee and applicant testing, paid time off, privacy, and other important employee rights. Understanding the laws that regulate these important issues helps workers to understand their rights and when their employers have violated them. If you believe that your employer has violated your rights as an employee, you may have legal remedies available to you. The employment lawyers at Swartz Swidler can review what happened and provide you with an honest assessment of your options. Here is an overview of the most important federal labor and employment laws that cover workplaces in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and the rest of the U.S.
Fair Labor Standards Act
The Fair Labor Standards Act or FLSA is an important law that was passed in 1938 to improve the conditions for workers in the U.S. This law governs many different things, including the federal minimum wage, rules for overtime pay, and child labor rules. Under this law, the federal minimum wage is set at $7.25 per hour, and non-exempt workers who work for covered employers must be paid an overtime premium for each hour worked above 40 in a week. This law also limits the number of hours that minors are allowed to work. Some states, including New Jersey, have higher minimum wage laws. In those states, the state law applies because it provides greater benefits to workers.
Employee Retirement Income Security Act
The Employee Retirement Income Security Act or ERISA is a federal law that regulates certain types of benefits plans for workers. It establishes the reporting, disclosure, and fiduciary obligations for pension plans, employer-provided health insurance plans, employer-provided disability insurance plans, and others. ERISA does not cover all private employers and does not set a requirement for employers to offer benefits to their employees. However, if employers do choose to offer benefits to their workers, ERISA sets the standards by which those plans must operate.
Occupational Safety and Health Act
The Occupational Safety and Health Act or OSHA is a federal law that regulates the safety and health conditions of workplaces in the private sector to ensure that the environments are relatively safe and free of hazardous conditions. Employers that are regulated by this law must display posters in their workplaces that outline the rights of workers to ask for an OSHA inspection. The posters also explain how to report problems and how to get training about dangerous work environments. This law is enforced by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and its corollary state agencies. OSHA sets standards and guidelines that employers must follow to protect their workers.
The Family and Medical Leave Act
The Family and Medical Leave Act or FMLA covers employers that have 50 or more workers who work within a 75-mile radius of each other. Under this law, eligible workers who have worked for at least 12 months and have worked a minimum of 1,250 hours for their employers can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave each year to care for the serious medical conditions of their family members, take leave for the birth or adoption of a new child, care for their serious medical conditions, or take care of emergencies that arise because of a family member’s active-duty military service. If a military service member is seriously injured while performing his or her military service, the coverage may be extended to include up to 26 weeks of job-protected leave during a year.
Resources from U.S. labor laws affecting workers
There are hundreds of labor laws that affect workers and their employees. Some of the most important resources for workers from these laws are covered below.
Wages and compensation laws and protections
The following protections are offered by the federal laws governing wages and compensation in the U.S.
Some laws regulate receiving paid time off instead of overtime pay for additional hours worked beyond 40 in a week. Under the FLSA, most employers cannot substitute comp time for overtime pay. However, there are some exceptions.
Several federal laws prohibit discrimination in pay based on a worker’s protected characteristics. These laws include the Equal Pay Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Civil Rights Act of 1991.
While the current minimum wage under the FLSA is $7.25 per hour, many local and state governments have established higher minimum wages. For example, the state minimum wage in New Jersey is $10 per hour. When the state or local minimum wage is higher, employers must follow the law that provides greater benefits to their employees.
Statutory, non-exempt employees must be paid one-and-one-half their regular hourly rates for each hour worked above 40 in a week. Some workers are exempt from the overtime pay requirement, however.
Wages may be garnished for certain types of debt, including child support and tax debts. The Consumer Credit Protection Act establishes limits on the amounts that can be garnished from the wages of workers. State laws also establish limits for wage garnishments.
Laws governing hiring and firing
Multiple laws govern hiring and firing. Here are some of the protections and impacts that workers have under these laws.
Most workers in the U.S. are employed at will. This means that their employers can fire them at any time and for any reason. However, there are certain exceptions to this general rule. Employers may not fire employers for discriminatory reasons, in violation of contracts, or in violation of public policy.
Several federal laws provide protections to workers against wrongful terminations. Under these laws, it is illegal for employers to fire workers to retaliate for engaging in protected activities, including whistleblowing, filing discrimination charges, participating in investigations, taking FMLA leave, and others. People who are wrongfully terminated from their jobs may have legal remedies available to them.
Employees who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own are eligible to receive unemployment benefits. These benefits are designed to replace a portion of the workers’ incomes for a set period or until they find new employment. To be eligible, workers must not have been fired for severe or gross misconduct and must be available and able to work.
Special rules apply to mass layoffs. Employers are provided to give their employees advance notice of planned mass layoffs. An employment lawyer can explain your options if you have received a layoff notice or have been laid off without notice.
Protections against discrimination
Workers who have certain types of characteristics are protected against discrimination based on those characteristics. Here are some of the laws and protections that employees enjoy.
Right against disability discrimination
Employers may not discriminate against workers or applicants based on their perceived or real disabilities. They must also provide reasonable accommodations to disabled workers as long as they will not cause an undue financial hardship under the Americans with Disabilities Act or ADA.
Federal anti-discrimination laws prohibit workplace discrimination based on an employee’s or applicant’s gender, age, race, national origin, color, ethnicity, religion, genetic information, pregnancy status, or disability status. Some state laws provide anti-discrimination protections to workers with other statuses.
Labor laws set standards for employers to protect workers under a variety of circumstances. Here are some of the laws that provide labor protections.
As previously described, ERISA establishes standards for employer-sponsored retirement and health plans.
Fair Credit Reporting Act
The Fair Credit and Reporting Act or FCRA provides protections to workers when their employers perform background checks.
The Affordable Care Act
The Affordable Care Act provides certain health insurance mandates to covered employers. It also mandates that employers give nursing mothers private rooms to express milk and time to do so.
This law regulates child labor, overtime, and the minimum wage for covered employees.
Immigration and Nationality Act
The Immigration and Nationality Act or INA provides rules about wages and work permits for foreign nationals who wish to work for U.S. employers.
Family and Medical Leave Act
The FMLA allows eligible employees of covered employers to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave from work during 12 months. Some states, including New Jersey, have their own family leave laws that may provide benefits.
Many other protections are afforded to workers under federal labor laws. Here are a few of the protections that workers should know.
Restrictions on child labor
Child labor laws restrict and regulate when children can work, the minimum age for child workers, and the types of work that children can perform. It also restricts the number of hours that minors can work per week.
Background check laws regulate when background checks can be requested and performed by employers for applicants and employees. These laws also mandate that employers obtain consent before they can perform background checks and when they can be requested.
Right to continuation of health insurance
The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act or COBRA gives employees the right to continued health insurance after they leave their jobs. However, they will be responsible to pay both their portions and the employer-paid portions of the health insurance costs if they elect to continue their coverage.
Drug testing is regulated by federal or state law, depending on the industry of the employee.
Employees enjoy certain types of privacy at work. An employment lawyer can explain your privacy rights at your job.
Disclosure of information by employers
Certain laws govern the types of information that employers can disclose. While many employers have policies in place about the disclosure of information, certain disclosures are not illegal.
Organizing and forming unions
The Wagner Act and the Taft-Hartley Act are two federal laws that protect the rights of workers to form unions and to organize. These laws also regulate how unions are allowed to operate.
Military service protections
The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Act or USERRA provides job protections to military service members when they are called to perform military duty.
Determining whether someone is an independent contractor or an employee
Classifying employees as independent contractors or employees can have important impacts on their rights. Laws that govern how workers are classified are important for worker rights.
Employment authorization documents
Federal laws establish what are authorized employment documents showing the legal eligibility of workers to work in the U.S. Foreign workers who have work visas are given EADs to show their eligibility to work.
Laws about non-compete agreements
Noncompete agreements are contracts that restrict the rights of employees to work for competitors of their employers. Some laws limit the enforceability of these types of contractual provisions and define the types of agreements that are allowed.
Workers’ compensation laws
Workers’ compensation is a type of insurance for workers who become ill or are injured because of their jobs. Employers are required to provide this insurance for their employees in exchange for immunity from liability in lawsuits.
Talk to the employment lawyers at Swartz Swidler
If you need help understanding your rights as an employee, the attorneys at Swartz Swidler are available to help. The information provided above is simply an overview of some of the federal laws and rules that affect the rights of workers. The employment attorneys at Swartz Swidler can provide information about the applicable laws and rules for your specific situation. Contact us today to schedule an appointment by calling us at 856.685.7420.