Legal Rights of Employees
Since the 1960s, numerous employment laws have been enacted on the state and federal level. They are meant to protect employees from workplace discrimination. Labor and employment law also covers many aspects of employee benefits, including workers' compensation and the Family Medical Leave Act. When a person experiences violations of legally protected statuses or benefits, an employment law attorney might be able to address the situation. A labor law attorney can help an individual to determine if their rights have been violated under the law, and when an individual seeks to file suit, the attorney can generally help them to be taken seriously by their employer.
Forms of Workplace Discrimination
Job termination, refusal to hire and mistreatment because of discrimination violate the law. A string of federal acts since the 1960s have codified protections for workers. An employer must not discriminate against people because of these traits:
- Race or color
- National origin
In the categories of age and disability, an employer must accommodate workers as much as reasonably possible. State laws often supplement federal workplace discrimination laws. Depending on the state, these laws might fill in where federal labor laws fall short. Workers for small employers sometimes face greater difficulties when coping with discrimination.
Discrimination sometimes spills over into the legal area of wrongful termination. Losing a job because of employer discrimination could be a violation of a worker's rights. Other protected activities that are not legal grounds for dismissal, even of an at-will employee, are:
- Filing a discrimination claim at the state or federal level
- Obeying the law
Often, in cases of wrongful termination, the plaintiff alleges the employer retaliated after an employee exercised one or both of the rights described above. In situations when the employer is breaking the law, an employee might qualify for additional whistle-blower legal protections.
In 1993, employment law created the right for people to take extended leaves of absence. Private employers with at least 50 employees must comply with the Family Medical Leave Act. All public employers must follow this law as well. The act grants an eligible worker up to 12 weeks off within a 12-month period. The right to family leave also depends on the person working 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 similar job after the leave. Sometimes, legal disputes arise when people are dismissed during or after their leave.
Protected reasons for taking a family leave include:
- Serious health problem
- Serious health problem for a parent, spouse or child
- Adoption of a child or foster child
- Birth of a child
- Certain needs associated with an active-duty military spouse, child or parent
States maintain various labor boards where a worker could file a complaint and request a hearing. Seeking help from a lawyer is also an option for any worker experiencing discrimination of wrongful termination.
When people seek legal representation for workplace issues, they typically look for lawyers whose practices focus on employment and labor law. An employment law attorney could inform the person about rights in the workplace. Advice might include how to gather evidence to document violations. Additionally, an attorney could request employment records, advise a client before a labor board hearing and prepare a lawsuit.
The goals of legal action will vary by the needs of the client. For example, an employment law attorney representing a person who lost a job because of discrimination might seek reinstatement to the position along with back pay. Someone who lost a job after taking a family leave might sue for similar things. Getting a job back does not have to be the goal. Instead, a settlement could be compensation for lost pay and damage to career.
Discrimination and wrongful termination usually revolve around complex details. Legal counsel could allow a person to assert rights and hold employers to their legal obligations.
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.