It may not feel like you have many rights when you’re stuck working mandatory overtime over the weekend, but every employee in the United States is guaranteed certain rights and protections by state and federal law. A reprieve from mandatory overtime unfortunately isn’t one of those, but the time-and-a-half pay you’ll get for working overtime is.
So is your right to fair pay, and the ability to work in a workplace free from discrimination and harassment. Employment law is a broad topic that covers everything from fair pay to workplace safety to discrimination, and if your employer breaches your basic employee rights, you have the right to file a complaint and seek civil action.
Following is a discussion of an employee’s basic rights, along with a brief overview of some of the applicable state and federal employment laws. Note that these rights are extended to both current employees and job applicants.
The right to privacy
An employee’s right to privacy in the workplace is established by state law, and typically covers personal possessions (purses, handbags, briefcases), assigned storage lockers (not public lockers), private mail addressed to the employee, and personal phone calls or voicemails (on personal devices, not company phones). When it comes to using an employer’s computer systems and phones, however, an employee’s right to privacy is limited, as employers usually have the right to archive an employee’s emails, recorded phone conversations, voicemails, and internet usage.
The right to a workplace free from discrimination
When it comes to hiring, firing, promoting, demoting, reassigning, and disciplining employees, federal law prohibits employers from considering an employee’s race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age (over 40), pregnancy, or disability. For employees with a disability, the employer is required to consider whether the individual is qualified for the position, with or without reasonable accommodations.
The right to reasonable accommodations
Employees have the right to request reasonable accommodations for their religious beliefs and practices (e.g. breaks to pray, not working on religious holidays). Disabled employees also have the right to request reasonable accommodations for their disability. When considering appropriate accommodations, the employer is required to take the employee’s preferences into account, but the employer is not required to provide accommodations that would place an undue burden on the business.
The right to a workplace free from harassment
Federal law prohibits sexual harassment that leads to a hostile work environment. Examples of sexual harassment include requests for sexual favors, unwelcome sexual advances, verbal or sexual conduct that interferes with an employee’s ability to do his or her job, and verbal or sexual conduct that creates an intimidating or offensive work environment.
The right to operate in a safe workplace
Employees have the right to work in a safe environment with proper training, well-maintained equipment, and necessary safety gear. Employers are expected to maintain a controlled environment that limits exposure to toxins and hazardous conditions. Employers are also required to keep a log of workplace injuries and safety inspections, and every employee has the right to view the logs at any time. Employees have the right to request a safety inspection, and to speak directly with the safety inspector.
The right to worker’s compensation
Employees who are injured on the job are eligible for medical treatment and compensation through a worker’s compensation program (OWCP). When you return to work, the employer is required to either retain your job, or provide you with a new job with equal (or better) compensation and benefits.
The right to fair pay
Men and women who perform the same job function have the right to receive equal pay. Federal law sets the minimum wage at $7.25/hour and requires 1.5x wages for overtime. The state of Arizona actually imposes a higher minimum wage of $10.50/hour, with the minimum wage scheduled to rise to $11/hour in 2019, and $12/hour in 2020 (ARS 23-363). Tipped employees used to be exempt from minimum wage laws, but a recent amendment to the federal law now requires that tipped employees receive a base wage equal to the minimum wage regardless of the value of their tipped earnings.
The right to terminate the employer-employee relationship at will
In Arizona, the employer-employee relationship is voluntary (e.g. “at-will”) so the employer and employee are both free to terminate the agreement at any time, for any reason. As such, employees who are not bound by a formal written contract have the right to quit without incurring personal liability.
The right to work
Arizona is a “right to work” state, which means that employers can’t use union membership as a condition of employment. Employees in Arizona have the right to decline union membership and decline to pay non-union dues, even if the employee benefits from the collective bargaining efforts of the union.
Protection against employer retaliation
Employees have the right to file a complaint against their employer and participate in an investigation without fear of retaliation from the employer (otherwise known as whistleblower protection). Employees also have the right to ask their coworkers about their salary if the employee is acting in good faith to uncover suspected discrimination and/or unequal pay.
Applicable federal laws
An employee’s basic rights are established by the following federal laws:
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (Title VII) – prohibits employers from discriminating against an employee based on color, sex, national origin, religion, or race. It also requires employers provide reasonable accommodations for an employee’s religious beliefs and practices.
- Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) – defines “disability” as a mental or physical condition that significantly impacts someone’s ability to perform one or more major life activities. The ADA prohibits employers from discriminating against an employee based on their disability. When considering a disabled employee’s qualification for a job or promotion, the employer is required to consider their ability to perform the job’s essential functions with or without reasonable accommodations. Employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities, though employers aren’t required to offer accommodations that would place an undue burden on the business.
- Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) – for employees who are age 40 or older, an employer can’t consider that employee’s age when determining their qualification for a job or promotion.
- Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) – the FLSA sets the minimum wage, requires 1.5x wages for overtime, regulates the duration of the workday, requires mandatory breaks, sets recordkeeping requirements for employers, and restricts child labor.
- Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) – employees who have worked with a company for at least one year, and who worked at least 1,250 hours during the previous year, are eligible for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for qualified personal and family medical needs.
- Equal Pay Act (EPA) – men and women who perform the same jobs are required to be given equal pay.
- Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) – employers are required to provide a workplace free from health and safety hazards, especially when it comes to providing safety gear and maintaining safe machinery. Employees have the right to file a complaint and request a safety inspection without fear of retaliation from their employer.
Need Help With An Employment Law Issue?
The state of Arizona is a great place to live and work, but knowing the employment laws will help you a lot. Whether you are a newcomer to the state or a lifelong resident, understanding your workplace protections is good for your career, and the more you know, the better.
Employment law issues can cause extreme distress and can affect productivity on the job. If you are being harassed at work, or dealing with any other employment issue, consider talking to our AZ employment law team to help you settle your case.
Call our Employment Law team at (480) 464-1111 to discuss your case today.