Employment Law Basics

Employment law in the United States is composed of a combination of state and federal law. Generally speaking, federal laws provide the minimum standards and the foundation of basic employee rights. State legislation can impose regulations to improve employee-rights beyond these minimum standards, but they can never loosen the federal regulations. Because of this, employees in different states may enjoy additional benefits that employees in other states aren’t granted, but every employee in the United States is at least guaranteed the same basic rights.

There are 10 federal laws that form the basis for employee’s rights, and all but one of them apply to companies with more than 15 employees (discussed later). These include:

  • The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938
  • The Equal Pay Act (EPA) of 1963
  • Title III of the Consumer Credit Protection Act (Title III) of 1963
  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (Title VII) of 1964
  • The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) of 1967
  • The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) of 1970
  • The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) of 1978
  • The Employee Polygraph Protection Act (EPPA) of 1988
  • The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990
  • The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)

The FLSA is the federal law that establishes the minimum wage, overtime wages, recordkeeping requirements, and child labor restrictions. The law dictates civil and criminal penalties for employers, allows civil money penalties for employers who willfully and/or repeatedly violate standards, and it allows employees to file civil lawsuits against their employer. If you believe you are not being paid fairly according to the minimum standards in the FLSA, you can file a complaint with the WHD here.

The Equal Pay Act (EPA)

The EPA requires employers to offer equal pay to men and women who perform equal work in the same workplace. As an employee, you have the right to ask coworkers about their salary if you suspect discrimination. This is referred to as a “protected activity,” and is enforced by the EEOC. Employers are prohibited from taking retaliatory measures against employees who have complained about discrimination, filed an official charge with the EEOC, or participated in a discrimination lawsuit or investigation. If you believe your pay is subject to discrimination, or if your employer retaliates against you for taking part in a protected activity, you can file a complaint with the EEOC here.

Title III of the Consumer Credit Protection Act (Title III)

Title III addresses wage garnishment provisions under the Consumer Credit Protection Act. An employer cannot discipline or discharge an employee on the basis that the employee’s wages are being garnished. The law also stipulates how much a creditor can garnish wages based on an employee’s weekly pay.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (Title VII)

Title VII prohibits employers from discriminating against someone based on race, color, religion, national origin, or gender. Similar to the whistleblower protection offered in the EPA, employers will be penalized for retaliating against employees who engage in protected activities regarding discrimination. Employers are also required to make reasonable accommodations for an employee’s sincerely-held religious practice, unless the necessary accommodation would place an undue burden on the employer. Generally speaking, “undue burden” includes accommodations that are prohibitively expensive or would significantly disrupt the employer’s business process.

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA)

Employees and job-applicants over the age of 40 cannot be discriminated against due to their age. Although the law doesn’t account for those who are under age 40, employers are liable to lawsuits for discriminating against any employees on the basis of age. The ADEA also provides whistleblower protection for employees who engage in protected activities regarding age discrimination.

The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act)

The OSH Act is enforced by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Under its tenets, all employees have the right to work in a safe workplace. Employers are required to provide a workplace free from health and safety hazards, especially when it comes to maintaining safe machinery and providing safety equipment. Employees have the right to file a complaint and request a safety inspection, without fear of reprisal from their employer.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA)

The PDA is actually an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The amendment prohibits discriminating against women due to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. It also provides whistleblower protection for protected activities related to pregnancy or childbirth.

The Employee Polygraph Protection Act (EPPA)

The EPPA generally makes it illegal for an employer to conduct a lie detector test on employees, though there are two notable exceptions. First, federal, state, and local government employers are exempt from the law. Second, polygraph tests may be allowed under certain circumstances, subject to restrictions.

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA)

In 1990, Congress passed the ADA to protect disabled individuals from discrimination. Employees and job-applicants cannot be denied jobs or promotions based on their current, former, or perceived disability. Employers who retaliate against employees engaged in protected activities relating to discrimination against disabilities will be prosecuted, and are subject to civil lawsuits. Lastly, employers are expected to provide reasonable accommodations for disabled employees, unless the accommodation would result in undue hardship.

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

The FMLA requires employers to provide employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for qualified family and personal medical situations. This includes:

  • The birth of a child
  • Caring for a newborn child (within one year of birth)
  • The adoption or foster care of a child (within one year of placement)
  • Caring for a spouse, parent, or child with a chronic health condition
  • A chronic health condition that inhibits an employee from fulfilling their job
  • Certain emergency circumstances where the employee’s spouse, child, or parent is with the military on covered active duty

To qualify, an employee must have been employed with the business for at least one year, and have worked more than 1,250 hours over the previous year. The unpaid leave can be continuous, or it can be intermittent, but it always includes up to 12 weeks of time off. During the leave period, the employer is required to maintain the employee’s group benefits. Upon the employee’s return, the employer must allow them to retake their former job, or offer a similar job with equal compensation and benefits.

What about small businesses with fewer than 15 employees?

Businesses with fewer than 15 employees are exempt from most federal employment laws, they are subject to the Equal Pay Act of 1963. While this may seem to let small businesses of this size off the hook, keep in mind that all businesses are subject to civil lawsuits. So, even if an employee isn’t protected by federal law, they still have the right to sue for damages. Court judgments from a civil lawsuit can amount to far greater sums than the penalties enforced by the EEOC or the WHD.

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.

Contact Our Employment Law Team

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