As an employer, it is your duty to be well-informed about your employee’s rights to avoid employee rights violations and the legal safeguards in place for them within the workplace. Your objective should be to advocate appropriately for your employees and prevent any infringements on their rights. For instance, are you aware of when overtime becomes applicable? What happens to accrued but unused vacation days? How can your employees be safeguarded if they become whistleblowers?
Numerous laws are in place to ensure the protection of employees’ rights, including those related to equal employment opportunities, occupational safety and health, and privacy rights. Additionally, businesses must adhere to state-level laws and regulations
The success of your business largely depends on your employees, so it is imperative to treat them with fairness and equity. In this article, we will explore employee rights and shed light on some of the most common, often unintentional, violations of these rights, enabling businesses to safeguard both themselves and their teams.
What are employee rights?
Employee rights encompass established measures designed to safeguard the interests of individuals working within an organization. Being well-informed about these rights can steer you clear of potentially harmful missteps. In many cases, employers inadvertently infringe upon these rights, believing their actions to be permissible.
The following are the fundamental rights that any employee should demand from their employer:
- Freedom from discrimination: Businesses are obligated to adhere to anti-discrimination laws within the workplace. As per guidelines from the United States Department of Labor (DOL), numerous laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 exist to shield employees from discriminatory practices. Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act addresses discrimination in the hiring process, particularly in regard to individuals with disabilities.
- Right to a safe and healthy workplace: Employees must be provided with the necessary safety gear and accommodations while on the job. Employers are required to make reasonable adjustments in accordance with an employee’s medical condition or religious beliefs. Moreover, employers must ensure workplace safety standards are maintained, including the absence of harmful substances and other hazards.
- Right to equal pay for equal work: The Equal Pay Act mandates that individuals of all genders receive equitable compensation for performing equivalent job responsibilities. This law encompasses all forms of compensation, encompassing salaries, overtime rates, and commissions. In cases of pay disparities, employers are not permitted to reduce the wages of either employee to establish pay parity.
- Right to reasonable work hours: The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) governs the maximum workdays per week, allowable overtime hours, and the requisite breaks during a work shift.
- Protection from retaliation when whistleblowing: The Whistleblower Protection Act provides legal safeguards for employees who expose corporate wrongdoing. Employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who report transgressions to the relevant authorities, which includes disciplinary actions, demotions, or terminations.
What are the most common employee rights violations?
Take a close look at the rights that your employees are entitled to and focus on areas where you might be falling short in supporting your workforce. Avoiding violations is of utmost importance since the penalties for non-compliance can be quite severe. For instance, your company could face a lawsuit, resulting in a substantial judgment against it.
Let’s examine some of the prevalent infringements of workplace rights to get deep insight of employee rights violations.
- Uncompensated Hours
If you have non-exempt employees who are on call or work extended shifts, including those with interrupted sleep periods lasting 24 hours, it’s important to recognize that these employees must receive their regular wages for the time they spend carrying out these responsibilities. Additionally, they are entitled to compensation for any extra hours worked, such as overtime pay (which is one and a half times their regular rate) if they exceed 40 hours in a week or work through their designated lunch breaks.
- Unpaid Vacation Time
Under the FLSA, employers are not obliged to provide compensation for accrued but unused vacation days. In simpler terms, if employees do not utilize their vacation days, they forfeit them. The FLSA does not oversee policies related to vacation and other forms of time off from work.
However, it’s worth noting that some states mandate employers to offer payment for unused vacation days when an employee is terminated, and certain companies may have their own internal policies concerning unused vacation or sick leave.
In some workplaces, there exists a “use-it-or-lose-it” policy, meaning that if employees do not use all their accumulated vacation days by the end of the year, these days are forfeited. It’s important to be aware that such policies are considered illegal in California, Nevada, and Montana. Conversely, other states, like North Dakota, Massachusetts, and Illinois, require employers to provide employees with a reasonable opportunity to use their accrued vacation time before it lapses. Additionally, New York and North Carolina mandate employers to formally inform their staff about “use-it-or-lose-it” policies.
- Employee misclassification
Determining whether your workforce falls under exempt or nonexempt classifications can be a perplexing task. It’s essential to understand that exemption status isn’t determined solely by job titles or whether an employee is paid a salary or an hourly wage. Instead, it hinges on whether they meet the criteria for receiving overtime pay.
An exempt employee, according to labor laws outlined in the FLSA, is not entitled to overtime pay and generally receives a salary. To qualify for exempt status, an employee must earn a minimum of $684 per week or $35,568 per year and fulfill job responsibilities falling within exempt professional categories like administrative, computer-related, professional, or executive roles.
It’s crucial to be well-informed about your employees’ exemption statuses to ensure they receive fair compensation for their time.
- Uncompensated Bonuses or Commissions
When extending a job offer to a new employee, the compensation package may include commissions or bonuses contingent on performance. The FLSA does not govern commissions and employee bonuses; instead, entitlement to such additional compensation is determined by the employer and state laws.
In certain states, employers may legally require employees to forfeit a bonus or commission if they are no longer employed by the company on the scheduled payment date, while others explicitly prohibit this practice.
- Unpaid or Incorrectly Calculated Overtime Pay
The FLSA sets forth regulations for overtime pay, predicated on a standard 40-hour workweek. It specifies that for hours worked beyond 40 hours in a single week, employees must receive compensation at a rate of one and a half times their regular hourly wage. For instance, if an employee’s usual hourly rate is $8, their overtime wage should be $12. They should be paid $12 for each hour worked beyond 40 hours in a week.
Overtime pay discrepancies have become an issue, especially for undocumented workers. In some instances, employers may establish rules stating that overtime work is not permitted or will not be remunerated without prior authorization. Consequently, they may prevent employees who work overtime from reporting those hours, resulting in unpaid labor.
- Workplace Bias Prevention
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 explicitly prohibits workplace harassment and unequal treatment on the basis of characteristics such as race, gender, religion, age, or nationality. It also extends this prohibition to encompass discrimination during the hiring process. Subsequently, it has expanded to offer additional protections for employees with disabilities through the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which mandates reasonable accommodations for disabled employees.
Many states and employers have introduced their own anti-discrimination statutes, addressing factors like sexual orientation and gender identity.
It is imperative that your employees are well-informed about the distinction between unfavorable treatment in the workplace and discrimination, as well as the appropriate actions to take if they believe they have experienced discrimination.
What federal laws protect employee rights?
Several agencies are responsible for creating laws that work against employee rights violations within the workplace. Applicable laws include:
- Family Medical Leave Act
- Title I of the ADA
- Rehabilitation Act
The agencies that regulate these laws include the DOL and its subdivisions, including the Office of Disability Employment Policy and the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs.
Sexual harassment is any kind of unwanted comments, behavior, touching, or contact of any type that makes the person on the receiving end feel uncomfortable or fearful.
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