Employees across the U.S. are protected by numerous complex laws and regulations. Unfortunately, despite these copious protections afforded the American worker, many employees and laborers are still taken advantage of and mistreated. Far too often, these employees are unaware of their rights and do not realize the potential legal actions at their disposal in the event of employer misconduct. If you are an employee in the U.S., it is essential that you understand your rights as such. Not only will this protect you, it will help you to understand what to do in a complicated or adverse situation.
Common Legal Issues in the Workplace
There are a number of issues that can arise on the job, including:
Wage Hour Overtime
The Fair Labor Standards Act provides guidelines for wage and overtime pay in both public and private places of employment. Many times employers will not follow the law and may fail to pay employees deserved wages. Other times, employees are not fairly compensated for the extensive overtime hours they contribute to their place of employment. The employer will generally misclassify the employee as salaried, then refuse to pay that employee for overtime work performed. Some employers will fail to pay for compensable drive time, claiming it to be exempt when in fact it is part of the employee’s work time for which he or she should be paid. Many employers additionally attempt to avoid wage and overtime laws by misclassifying employees as independent contractors, when they should be considered employees under the law.
When an employee complains to his or her employer about missing wages, the employer will sometimes take retaliatory action against the employee. Such retaliation is illegal and the employee does have legal recourse, but they may not always recognize this.
If you believe you have been denied proper wages or overtime pay, or have been unlawfully retaliated against for making a protected complaint, contact a licensed employment law attorney as soon as possible.
A wrongful termination occurs when an employee is fired for an unlawful reason. Most employees are employed “at will,” which means they do not have a formal employment contract with their employer. The employment of an “at will” employee can be ended at any time. In other cases, employees sign a written contact that contains an at will clause, stating the employer can terminate the employee for any reason and without cause. It is important for at will employees to understand that they do have certain rights against wrongful termination. At will employees cannot be fired for reasons that violate the law or public policy. For instance, such employees cannot be fired on the basis of race, age, sex, disability, or pregnancy.
Federal and state law prohibit employers from retaliating against their employees for whistle blowing. Whistle blowing occurs when employees provide information to the government concerning their employer’s illegal actions, such as wasting funds or mismanagement.
Yet another form of wrongful termination is called constructive wrongful termination. This occurs when the work conditions become so awful that employees are forced to quit. Federal law provides that if the employer’s treatment of employees is so severe that a reasonable person could not continue to work in that environment, the employee may quit and seek damages for lost wages.
Every employee has the right to feel comfortable in their workplace. For the victims of workplace sexual harassment, however, the workplace becomes an environment of fear, intimidation, and hostility. Sexual harassment can come in several forms, from unwanted sexual comments to touching that can form the basis for sexual battery.
Actionable sexual harassment can often be broken down into two main categories: quid pro quo harassment and hostile work environment. Quid pro quo harassment involves superior offering promotions, raises, or other work considerations in exchange for sexual favors. Sometimes this sort of harassment can take the form of sexual extortion, wherein a superior blackmails an employee with threats to his or her job.
Hostile work environment cases are harder to prove and define. A hostile work environment exists when an employee is the victim of harassment such that he or she fears going to work because of the intimidating, offensive, or oppressive atmosphere created by the harasser. It can be hard to determine what behavior is merely rude or obnoxious, and what crosses into the realm of creating a hostile work environment. As a general example, a coworker who talks loudly, leans over your desk, and snaps gum is likely just obnoxious, but one that tells sexually explicit jokes, sends images of nude people around, or touches you in any inappropriate manner is likely guilty of sexual harassment and of creating a hostile work environment.
Any employee who believes they have been the victim of sexual harassment should consult with an employment law attorney as soon as possible.
All workers have the right to a safe workplace, but unfortunately work place violence does happen. Workplace violence can take the form of physical abuse or threats. Sometimes, workplace violence even escalates to involve fatalities. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, nearly two million workers are the victims of workplace related violence each year.
In many cases, workplace violence does not arise out of the blue. There are warning signs and escalating behaviors that indicate the potential danger of a certain employee. Employers are vested with the duty to provide a safe workplace, which includes taking steps to prevent and respond to threats of violence. Employers who fail to act can be held accountable for the injuries that occur to their employees.
Protecting Your Rights as an Employee
American workers form the backbone of society and our economy.
They deserve to be treated with the utmost respect. If you are an employee who has been subjected to illegal treatment, consult with an employment law attorney as soon as possible to protect your rights.
To schedule a free consultation with one of our experienced Gainesville Employment Attorneys, call our law office today.