Legal Rights of Employees
Since the 1960s, a considerable amount of employment legislation has been enacted at the state and federal level. These laws are meant to protect a person from unfair treatment by a current or prospective employer. Employment law also covers other legal rights and benefits, such as the Family and Medical Leave Act. An employment law attorney can often be of assistance to people whose rights have been violated.
Forms of Workplace Discrimination
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 provides protection against workplace discrimination for people who fall into certain categories, also called protected classes. This federal law forbids discrimination or disparate treatment by employers on the basis of:
- Race or color
- National origin
Subsequent to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, other federal laws were enacted that protect discrimination on the basis of age or disability. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, companies are required to make reasonable accommodations to disabled employees unless to do so would constitute an undue hardship. State laws often supplement federal workplace discrimination laws. Depending on the state, these laws might fill in where federal legislation falls short.
Workplace discrimination sometimes results in wrongful termination. Losing a job because of employer discrimination could be a violation of a worker's rights. Another protected activity that is not considered legal grounds for dismissal, even of an at-will employee, is the filing of a discrimination claim at the state or federal level.
In 1993, federal legislation was enacted that gives eligible employees the right to take extended leaves of absence under certain circumstances. The Family and Medical Leave Act covers private companies with at least 50 employees as well as government employees. It allows an eligible worker to take up to 12 weeks off within a 12-month period. The right to family leave also depends on the employee having worked a minimum of 1,250 hours within the last 12 months for that employer and being employed at least 12 months by that same employer. The employer must let the person return to the same or a similar job after the leave, which is unpaid.
Protected reasons for taking a family leave include:
- A serious health problem for the employee
- A serious health problem for the employee's parent, spouse or child
- The adoption of a child or foster child
- The birth of a child
- Certain needs associated with an active-duty military spouse, child or parent
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is the federal agency entrusted with the power of enforcement of federal employment laws. Many states have similar agencies. The process of filing a claim with the EEOC is time-sensitive and somewhat complex, and thus many people who feel that their rights have been violated obtain the assistance of an employment law attorney.
Once a claim has been filed, the EEOC will commence an investigation. In some cases, the agency may recommend mediation, but both the employer and the claimant have to agree to it. If the EEOC finds that no violation has taken place, it will notify the claimant and give permission to file a civil lawsuit. Should the agency find that a violation occurred, it will attempt to settle the matter with the employer. If no accord can be reached, the EEOC will either file a lawsuit or give the claimant the right to sue.
The information on this page is meant to provide a general overview of the law. The laws in your state and/or city may deviate significantly from those described here. If you have specific questions related to your situation you should speak with a local attorney.
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