State and federal laws in the U.S. define the employer-employee relationship and provide employees with certain rights as workers. These include the right to a minimum wage, the right against certain forms of discrimination and harassment, and protection of an employee’s genetic information, among others. When you know your rights, you are in a better position to protect yourself. Some of the legal protections described in this article will not apply to every workplace. If you have questions about your rights and whether they may have been violated, talk to the employment law attorneys at Swartz Swidler.
Some states and cities have laws that provide employees with greater protection than federal laws. For example, New Jersey has more categories of protected statuses than federal law provides. Checking with an attorney can help you to determine whether your rights may have been violated under state or local laws and regulations.
Equal pay and discrimination
Employers are required to pay workers who work in similar jobs with the same types of responsibilities equally. Laws also prohibit employers from discriminating against workers based on their protected statuses, including such characteristics as race, gender, color, national origin, religion, genetic information, disability, age, and others. When an employer discriminates against a worker in pay or in another way based on the worker’s protected status, the employee has the right to file a complaint. You can file an initial complaint within your company. If that does not work, you can file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for discrimination complaints or with a corresponding state agency.
The prohibition against employment discrimination based on protected statuses extends to all aspects of employment, including recruiting, interviewing, hiring, promotions, pay, bonuses, training opportunities, layoffs, demotions, and terminations.
Family Medical Leave
Under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, eligible employees who work for employers with 50 or more employees working within a 75-mile radius can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off from work for certain approved purposes. These include taking care of your serious health condition or the health condition of a family member, taking time to bond with a child after birth, adoption, or foster care placement, taking time to prepare for a family member’s military deployment, or to care for an injured military service member. To qualify, you must have worked for your employer for a minimum of one year and have worked a minimum of 1,250 hours during the prior 12 months.
Minimum wage and overtime
The federal minimum wage was raised to $7.25 per hour and remains at that rate. While Pennsylvania’s minimum wage is the same as the federal minimum wage, New Jersey raised its minimum wage to $10 per hour beginning on July 1, 2019. If you work in Pennsylvania, your employer must pay you at least $7.25 per hour for all hours that you work. If you work more than 40 hours in a week and are a statutory employee, you must also be paid overtime at a rate of one-and-one-half times your regular hourly rate. In New Jersey, you must be paid at least $10 per hour despite the federal minimum wage. When states have higher minimums, employers are required to follow the state’s laws.
Workplace privacy rights
Employers are allowed to monitor what their employees are doing on company computers and cell phones. However, there are some limits to what they can do. Employers must inform their employees how they monitor them. Employers generally are not allowed to listen to personal phone conversations. A relatively new area of employment law that continues to develop involves posts on social media. In New Jersey, it is illegal for an employer to ask you for your social media passwords because it is an unreasonable invasion of your privacy. In certain types of workplaces such as federal or state agencies, employers may have the right to search personal belongings such as purses or briefcases. In others, they may not have the right to do so.
It is common for employers to conduct background checks on people whom they hire and on current workers. They frequently check for criminal convictions and arrest records and verify the credentials and employment histories of the applicants and employees. Some employers also check the credit histories of their employees. These types of checks can be problematic. Employers cannot discriminate against potential employees based on an arrest or criminal conviction. This applies as long as the arrest or conviction is not related to the jobs for which the applicants are applying.
If a company uses a third-party agency to conduct background checks, the company must follow the regulations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act in addition to complying with state and local laws. Under these rules, you must be notified that the employer will complete a background check in writing, and you must agree to the background check in writing. If the employer decides not to hire you or to deny a promotion based on the background check, you must receive a written notice that includes a copy of the report that led to the decision. You should also be given a copy of your rights under the FCRA. This notice must be provided to you before the adverse action is taken so that you can contact the agency that provided the negative information and challenge it. If the employer proceeds with the adverse action, they must provide you with notice that they based the decision on the consumer report.
When workers report inside information of illegal actions by their employers to government agencies, they have protections under a variety of state and federal whistleblower laws. Protections depend on the type of violation and its extent, as well as the circumstances that led the employee to file a complaint. The laws prohibit employers from retaliating against whistleblowers and against workers who participate in the investigations by the government agencies.
While bullying is a real problem in workplaces, federal law only provides limited protection. Harassment at your job is only illegal when it rises to the level that it creates a hostile work environment, and when the harassment is based on a worker’s protected status. Whistleblowers are also protected against harassment.
How to handle violations of your employee rights
If you believe that your employee rights have been violated, you should start by addressing the issue with your employer. Follow your company’s policy for complaints. In many cases, a company’s human resources department will be responsible for investigating complaints that it receives.
If an investigation is not conducted or the problem continues, contacting an attorney is essential. An attorney at Swartz Swidler can explain your rights and evaluate your case. The attorney will explain possible legal options and may help you to file complaints with the appropriate agencies. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation by calling us at 856.685.7420 or by filling out our online contact form.