Knowing your rights as an employee can protect you from unlawful workplace practices. The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has over 180 federal laws that protect employees from discrimination, workplace hazards and unfair treatment. Employee rights may differ depending on the number of employees a company hires, so it is best to refer to the DOL for specific information about statutes and regulations regarding employee rights.
The DOL’s National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) allows employees to form a union, as well as join or assist an already formed union. Under the NLRA, you can organize a union if you wish to negotiate the terms of your work hours, wages and employment terms or conditions with your employer.
You have the right to work with co-workers to improve the conditions in the workplace by filing complaints with your employer or a government agency, as well as seek assistance from another union. As an employee, you also have the right to not join or cancel your membership with a union.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the DOL’s Rehabilitation Act protect disabled employees from discrimination. The DOL states that Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act and the ADA also protects those employers who appear to have a disability but do not as well as individuals who recovered from a disability and face discrimination because of their medical records.
To receive protection under Section 503 and the ADA if you are disabled, you must possess the necessary job-related requirements, skills and education. You must also be able to perform the essential job functions, even if you require accommodations considered reasonable.
An employer cannot ask you about the severity or nature of your disability but he can ask you if you can perform the functions of a job. Furthermore, an employer can also ask you to demonstrate how you would perform a job function with or without a reasonable accommodation.
Wage and Hours
The Wage and Hour division of the DOL administers the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which regulates employee hours and wages, including overtime pay. Under FLSA, if qualified, you have the right to earn at least the federal hourly minimum wage. If you work overtime, your employer must pay you an hourly rate that equals an hour and a half of your regular rate for the extra hours you work.
Some employers have policies that state an employee will receive overtime pay if he works more than eight hours per day, while other employers do not pay overtime wages unless an employee worked more than 40 hours within the span of a work week. It is best to consult with your employer’s human resources department regarding overtime pay.
Family and Medical Leave
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), administered by the Wage and Hour division, applies to companies that have 50 or more employees. You can qualify for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave under FMLA if you have worked for an employer for at least 20 weeks. FMLA offers protection if you need to take time off because of the birth of your child, you have a serious illness or you need to care for an immediate family member with a serious illness.
You can also take FMLA leave when you adopt a child or have a child in foster care placed in your home. You have the right to keep your job and employee benefits while on FMLA leave.