We are all afforded certain rights by the federal government. When it comes to rights of an employee in the workplace, there are a number of federal laws to protect employees against mistreatment.

The US Department of Labor (DOL) is the primary unit that handles the rights of employees, with 28 agencies under its purview that provide oversight in key areas. While there are countless individual protections and guarantees for employees, following is a list of five key rights of employees in the workplace. Also read up on the five rights of employers.

1. Fair Pay

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938 provides the foundation for many of the laws regarding fair compensation. Alabama Senator Hugo Black, the bill’s sponsor, said the FLSA was designed to “put a ceiling over hours and a floor under wages.”

Under its mandate, employees who are paid by the hour are guaranteed a minimum wage, and are eligible for overtime pay after working more than 40 hours in a single week. Overtime pay isn’t just for hourly wages, either—most states require employees receive additional overtime compensation for commissions earned.

While $7.25 is currently the federal minimum wage, many cities and states mandate a higher minimum wage to keep up with the rising cost of living. Your employer should not expect you to work “off the clock,” or require additional unpaid work outside of the workplace.

Your paycheck should reflect all of the time worked during the week, before and after normal business hours, on-site or remotely. If you believe you are not being paid fairly, you can file a complaint with the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD).

For employees who earn a significant portion of their income through tips (defined as any employee who receives at least $30 in tips in a single month), the Fair Labor Standards Act requires a minimum base wage of $2.13 an hour. However, if an employee does not make a combined $7.25 an hour from their hourly wage and tips, the employer will need to increase their hourly wage appropriately.

While that’s the extent of the federal mandate, there are a number of states who offer additional guarantees. Alaska, California, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Montana, and Minnesota require employers to pay tipped employees the full state minimum wage before tips. Another 25 states stipulate a minimum base hourly wage higher than the federal minimum of $2.13 an hour.

2. Workplace Safety

To prevent unsafe work conditions that may lead to injury and death, the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) enforces standards regarding workplace safety, proper training, and reporting of unsafe work conditions or violations. The agency also ensures that whistleblowers are not subject to retaliation by an employer for reporting a workplace safety violation.

If you are ever injured on the job, you should be eligible for medical treatment and compensation through worker’s compensation programs. When you return to work, your employer is required to retain your former job, or to provide you with a new job that matches the pay and benefits you had before your injury. Don’t wait to report an injury, as that always makes matters worse.

If you are denied fair treatment and compensation, you can file a complaint with the Department of Labor’s Office of Worker’s Compensation Programs (OWCP).

3. Discrimination

When it comes to rights in the workplace, the right of employees to enjoy a workplace free from discrimination is a broad subject that is protected by several laws. While discrimination still runs rampant in our society, these measures attempt to level the playing field in the workplace. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 adds age discrimination to that list, prohibiting age from being a factor when considering hiring, promotions, compensation, discharge, or the terms, conditions, and privileges of employment.

Individuals with disabilities are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990. Under the ADA, it’s unlawful to discriminate against a qualified individual who has a disability, provided the individual can perform the essential functions of the job, with or without reasonable accommodation. Protected disabilities include:

  • Physical or mental impairments that substantially limit one or more major life activities
  • A record of such impairment
  • Being regarded as having such impairment

The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) was created to enforce federal discrimination laws. If you are the subject of discrimination in the workplace and you would like to file a lawsuit in state or federal court, you’ll need to file a formal complaint with the EEOC.

4. Sexual Harassment

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act also provides protection against sexual harassment in the workplace. The law explicitly protects against sexual harassment that leads to a hostile work environment.

Examples of this include unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or any verbal or sexual conduct that interferes with your ability to do your job, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment. Sexual harassment is considered a form of workplace discrimination, and therefore falls under the purview of the EEOC.

5. Employer Retaliation

This right is commonly referred to as whistleblower protection. The law prohibits employers from retaliating against an employee who engages in a protected activity, and the EEOC enforces retaliation violations. Protected activities include:

  • Filing or being a witness in an EEOC charge, complaint, investigation, or lawsuit
  • Communicating with a supervisor or manager about employment discrimination or harassment
  • Answering questions during an employer investigation of alleged harassment
  • Refusing to follow orders that would result in discrimination
  • Resisting sexual advances, or intervening to protect others
  • Requesting accommodation of a disability or for a religious practice
  • Asking managers or coworkers about salary information to uncover potentially discriminatory wages

If you are a participant in an EEOC complaint process, you are protected from retaliation in all circumstances. In addition to these protected activities, other actions to oppose discrimination are considered protected activities as long as you acted in good faith and have reason to believe something in the workplace is against the law.

However, being party to an EEOC complaint does not shield you from any employer discipline or discharge. Your employer can still discipline or terminate you if the action is non-discriminatory and non-retaliatory, under circumstances that any employee would be subject to disciplinary action.


Call our Employment Law team at (480) 464-1111 to discuss your case today.

Schedule Your Consultation

Fill out the form below to get your consultation and discuss your best legal options.