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labor law

Contributor(s): Ivy Wigmore

Labor law is legislation specifying responsibilities and rights in employment, particularly the responsibilities of the employer and the rights of the employee. Laws differ among jurisdictions; this definition pertains to labor law within the United States.

Protection of employee rights begins with fair hiring practices. By law, an employer cannot conduct a background or credit check on an applicant without their written permission. It is also illegal for an employer to discriminate against an applicant because of their age, race, religion or country of origin. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), employers cannot discriminate against a prospective employee with any disability unless it renders them incapable of performing tasks related to the position.

Employees have the right to privacy of their possessions on the job, as well as phone conversations and voicemail. However, communications conducted on corporately-owned equipment may not be protected.

As the workforce has become more mobile and off-hours communications more common, some jurisdictions are also enacting or exploring right to disconnect legislation, which prevents employers from penalizing workers for failing to respond to communications outside of working hours.

Fair Labor Standards Act

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) stipulates requirements surrounding hours and wages: Employees are entitled to at least the federal minimum wage (or state minimum wage, in cases where that figure is higher) for up to 40 hours per week, and 1.5 times that rate for any overtime. Exempt employees, for whom that law may not apply, include salaried workers, seasonal workers and those who derive a substantial part of their earnings from tips.

Employees are also legally entitled to a safe working environment, free of hazardous substances, dangerous materials and faulty equipment that could cause an injury. An employee who determines that there is an immediate and serious health risk in the working environment has the right to refuse work until the situation is rectified.

Employees who have been with an organization for 12 months have the right to take medical or family leave of up to 12 weeks without incurring job loss.

Whistleblower Protection Act

An employer cannot legally punish an employer for filing a claim against the organization. The Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 protects federal government employees from retaliatory action for voluntarily disclosing information about dishonest or illegal activities occurring in a government organization. Non-governmental employees are similarly protected in other legislation.

This was last updated in July 2019

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