While most people know that employees have rights, many are not aware of what they are. There is a knowledge gap between the rights employees have under state and federal law and what they understand that they have. Applicants and employees need to understand their rights so that they can protect them. Here is some information from the attorneys at Swartz Swidler about five major rights that you have as an employee.
1. You Have The Right to Be Safe and Healthy in the Workplace.
Many employees know that they have the right to be safe and healthy in the workplace. This right is protected by the Occupational Safety and Health Act, which is enforced by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration or OSHA. Employees can file complaints with OSHA when their employers commit safety violations that put them in danger. Despite the potential for enforcement actions and the safety regulations and guidance issued by OSHA, more than 2.6 million workers were injured or sickened at work during 2020, and 5,333 workers were killed in workplace accidents in 2019, according to statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
OSHA can issue hefty penalties against companies that violate its workplace safety guidelines. For example, a Cliffside Park, New Jersey contractor called BB Framing was assessed more than $2 million in fines and penalties in 2020 for exposing its employees to numerous safety hazards across four worksites. While the company is contesting the penalties and violations, it demonstrates how seriously safety violations in the workplace are treated by the government.
Employers are required to submit records of injuries and occupational illnesses to OSHA. Some of these reports are publicly available. Any injury or illness requiring hospitalization must be reported to OSHA. Workers can also file complaints to OSHA on its website.
2. You Have The Right to not Be Discriminated Against and to Equal Treatment.
Members of protected groups are protected against workplace discrimination based on their protected characteristics. There are many protected characteristics under both state and federal law, including the following:
- National origin
- Gender identity
- Sexual orientation
- Citizenship status
- Genetic information
- Familial status
The prohibition against discrimination based on the protected characteristics of employees extends to all aspects of the employer-employee relationship, including hiring, recruiting, interviewing, assignments, pay, promotions, training opportunities, discipline, firing, and layoffs. Employers must also promptly investigate discrimination that is occurring in their workplaces and take appropriate disciplinary measures to end it.
3. You Have the Right to Be Paid Fairly and to Work Reasonable Hours.
Many U.S. workers struggle to maintain a good work-life balance. It is not uncommon for workers to work more than 40 hours during the workweek. However, if you are a non-exempt employee and work over 40 hours during a week, your employer must pay an overtime premium equal to one-and-one-half times your regular pay rate for each hour worked above 40. However, your employer does not have to pay extra for you working on weekends, during overnights, or on holidays, but many employers do offer additional pay to employees who work during these times.
Before your employer can classify you as a salaried, exempt employee, your job duties must meet the requirements established by the FLSA. You must also receive a minimum salary equal to at least $684 per week. If your job duties do not meet the requirements for exempt employees, you have the right to overtime compensation.
Finally, employers in New Jersey must pay their non-exempt employees at least the state’s minimum wage of $12 per hour or $13 per hour beginning in 2022. You have the right to be paid for all hours worked and must be compensated for any time you spend working off the clock or during your breaks. If you are owed money, you can file a wage and hour claim against your employer with the help of an experienced attorney. Wage and hour claims might allow employees to recover back wages for up to three years, and employers can face penalties for violating the wage and hour laws.
4. You Have the Right To Report Problems or Legal Violations in the Workplace.
Many employees worry about reporting problems in the workplace or violations of the law committed by their employers. However, employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees for filing complaints, participating in investigations, or reporting illegal conduct that the employers have engaged in. If you exercised your rights to complain about discrimination, safety violations, or fraud committed by your employer against the government, you can pursue compensation through a retaliation or wrongful termination claim. You are protected against retaliation based on complaining even if your underlying complaint is investigated and found to not be supported.
5. You Have the Right to Organize, Engage in Collective Bargaining, and Unionize.
The National Labor Relations Act protects the rights of employees to organize, engage in collective bargaining, and unionize to improve their pay, benefits, and workplace conditions. This includes the right to discuss your compensation with other employees. Employers are forbidden from interfering with your rights to unionize or engage in bargaining with others to try to secure better benefits, pay, or working conditions. If your employer does interfere or obstruct you in your efforts, you can file a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board.
Get Help from Swartz Swidler
In addition to these major rights, many other employment laws protect the rights of employees in the workplace. It can be difficult for most employees to fully understand the rights they have, however. If you think that your employer might have engaged in actions that violated your rights, you should speak to a competent employment lawyer for help with understanding your rights. Contact the attorneys at Swartz Swidler for a free consultation by calling (856) 685-7420.