Workers in New Jersey and Pennsylvania enjoy certain basic employment rights. The employment laws cover the obligations and rights that exist within the relationship between the employer and an employee and include both current and former employees and job applicants. Many employment law disputes relate to employee regulations and rights. Because employment relationships are complex, many different issues can arise. The Swartz Swidler legal team handles employment law disputes and can help you to determine your rights and the legal options that might be available to you.
Types of legal issues that are governed by employment laws
Some of the types of situations that are covered by state and federal employment laws include the following:
- Wrongful termination
- Workplace discrimination
- Overtime compensation
- Workplace safety
Whether you are an employee or applicant, you should learn about your rights as an employee to ensure that you are protected. Employers should also know what the rights of their employees are to avoid liability and to have better functioning and healthier work environments for their workers.
Overview of workplace employee rights
Most states grant employees a degree of privacy in their workplaces. Employees have privacy rights for their personal possessions, including their briefcases, purses, private mail that is only addressed to the employee, and storage lockers that only the employees can access. Workers may also have some privacy rights for their voicemail messages or phone conversations. However, when employees use their employers’ computer systems, their privacy rights in their internet usage and email messages are limited.
In addition to employee privacy rights, some other examples of employee rights include the following:
- Right against harassment and discrimination based on an employee’s protected characteristics
- Right to work in a safe work environment that is free from safety hazards and dangerous conditions
- Right against retaliation for engaging in protected activities
- Right to fair and equal pay for the work performed
What rights do job applicants have?
Prospective workers also enjoy certain rights when they apply for jobs. Some of these rights include the right against discrimination based on their protected characteristics during the application, interviewing, and hiring processes.
For example, employers may not engage in recruitment practices that have a disparate impact on applicants of a certain race. They also cannot ask applicants about certain family or disability conditions. Employers cannot run background or credit checks of prospective employees unless the employer secures their permission to do so in writing. It is more difficult to prove employment law violations involving job applicants, however.
Federal laws that protect employee rights
Multiple federal laws protect employee rights in every state. States also have employment laws to protect workers within their boundaries. For example, New Jersey has a minimum wage law that provides for workers to receive a higher minimum wage than the federal standard. When a state law provides greater rights than the federal law, employers must follow the state law.
Some examples of federal employment laws that outline basic employee rights include the following:
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – Protects workers from discrimination based on certain protected characteristics
- Americans with Disabilities Act – Protects disabled workers
- Age Discrimination in Employment Act – Protects workers ages 40 and older from age-based discrimination
- Fair Labor Standards Act – Provides minimum wage and overtime pay requirements and protections
- Family and Medical Leave Act – Provides job-protected family and medical leave of up to 12 weeks for eligible workers at covered employers
- Pregnancy Discrimination Act – Protects pregnant workers from discrimination based on their pregnancy statuses
- Equal Pay Act – Mandates equal pay for equal work regardless of gender
- Genetic Information Non-discrimination Act
We will briefly discuss basic employee rights under each of these federal laws below.
Employee rights under Title VII
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a major anti-discrimination law that prohibits discrimination in the workplace based on the protected characteristics of employees. Under Title VII, employers are prohibited from discriminating against workers and applicants based on the following characteristics:
- National Origin
This law applies to employers with 15 or more employees. It protects workers in these protected classes against discrimination in all aspects of employment, including applications, interviews, hiring decisions, pay, promotions, bonuses, training opportunities, layoffs, and terminations.
Employee rights under the ADA
The Americans with Disabilities Act helps to protect people with disabilities in the workplace. It includes definitions of disabilities and requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to allow disabled people the ability to complete the tasks of their jobs. Employers are not required to provide accommodations that are requested if they are unreasonable or if providing them would cause undue financial hardships to the employers’ business operations.
Under the ADA, disabilities include physical or mental conditions that substantially impact the ability of workers to perform one or more of the major life functions. Employers cannot discriminate against disabled workers who are otherwise qualified for their jobs. The ADA covers employers with 15 or more employees, labor organizations, state and local governments, and employment agencies. Disabled employees must notify their employers of their need for reasonable accommodations before an employer will have to provide them.
Employee rights under the ADEA
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act covers age discrimination against workers and applicants who are ages 40 and older. Under the ADEA, covered employers are prohibited against discriminating against older workers in all aspects of employment, including hiring, interviewing, promotions, bonuses, advancement opportunities, layoffs, and terminations.
This law is meant to protect older employees from discrimination by their employers in favor of younger workers. However, it does not prohibit employers from favoring older workers over younger employees. The ADEA applies to employers with 20 or more workers. In New Jersey, the corresponding law protects workers of all ages against age-related discrimination and applies to employers with four or more employees.
Employee rights under the FLSA
The Fair Labor Standards Act is a major employment rights law. This law regulates the minimum wage, overtime compensation, child labor, and other important workplace conditions. Under the FLSA, employers are required to pay non-exempt workers a minimum of $7.25 per hour and to pay overtime compensation to non-exempt employees who work more than 40 hours during a workweek. The FLSA applies to employers with annual revenues of $500,000 or more and those that engage in interstate commerce. There are multiple types of workers who are exempt from the FLSA, however.
In states that have a higher minimum wage than what is called for under the FLSA, employers must pay their employees the higher state minimum wage. For example, the state minimum wage in New Jersey is $10 per hour. This means that employers in New Jersey must pay their workers $10 or more per hour instead of the federal minimum wage under the FLSA.
Employee rights under the FMLA
The federal Family and Medical Leave Act provides covered employees the right to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid family and medical leave each year without worrying about losing their jobs. This law applies to employers with 50 or more workers that work within a 75-mile radius of each other. Eligible employees of covered employers include workers who have worked for the company for a minimum of one year who have worked a minimum of 1,250 hours in the previous 12 months. Workers can take unpaid leave under this law to take care of their serious medical conditions or those of their family members. The FMLA allows workers to take intermittent or extended leave and offers job protections. Employees can choose to use paid time off that they have accrued during their unpaid FMLA leave.
New Jersey also has a state family and medical leave law. Under the New Jersey law, eligible employees who work for employers with 50 or more employees and who have worked at least 1,000 hours in the preceding 12 months may take up to 12 weeks off from work to care for their family member’s serious medical condition or to care for a newly adopted child or newborn. Leave under the New Jersey law is taken over a 24-month period. New Jersey also has a paid family leave law.
Employee rights under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act prohibits employers from discriminating against workers on the basis of their pregnancies, pregnancy-related medical conditions, or childbirth. The prohibitions against discrimination under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act apply to all aspects of employment, including firing, hiring, layoffs, promotions, pay, opportunities for job advancements, and others.
Under the law, pregnant women who suffer from temporary medical conditions must be treated in the same way by their employers as their employers treat other workers with temporary medical conditions. For example, if an employer offers light duty to a worker who is recovering from a minor car accident, the employer must also offer it to a pregnant employee when light-duty has been recommended by her doctor. Employers must also allow pregnant employees to take time off for childbirth and to use accrued medical leave.
Employee rights under the Equal Pay Act
The Equal Pay Act prohibits sex-based discrimination in worker pay. Under this law, women must be paid equal pay to their male counterparts for equal work. Equal pay must be paid to workers who perform similar job duties and who have similar educational qualifications regardless of their job titles. This law covers all types of compensation, including salaries or hourly wages, overtime compensation, stock options, bonuses, vacation and holiday pay, travel reimbursements, accommodations, profit-sharing, and access to employer-provided benefits.
Employee rights under the GINA
The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act is a federal law that was enacted in 2008. Under this law, employees are protected from discrimination by their employers on the basis of their genetic information, including their family medical histories, participating in genetics research, genetic information from tests, and more. Employers are prohibited from making employment decisions based on a worker’s genetic information in hiring, firing, terms, privileges, promotions, and other aspects. Employers are also forbidden from segregating or mistreating workers based on their genetic information.
Talk to the attorneys at Swartz Swidler
These laws provide an overview of the basic employee rights that you enjoy in the workplace. There are other state and federal laws that offer additional protection to workers. Understanding the rights that you have as an employee is important. If you believe that your employee rights have been violated, you should consult with the attorneys at Swartz Swidler to learn about the potential remedies that you might have. Contact us today to schedule a consultation by calling 856.685.7420 or by filling out our contact form.