Knowing Your Rights: Top 5 Legal Protections for Workers

legal protections workers compensation worker rights

Are you one of the over 157 million workers in the United States?

Whether you work in a traditional office environment, construction site, or manufacturing assembly line, you’re probably happy to be in employment.

As an employee, you have a boss. You’re required to follow the employer’s policies and rules, failure to which they might have grounds to demote, suspend, or fire you from your position. But did you know there are lines your employer cannot cross?

Yes, employees have legal protections.

If you don’t have a good grasp of your workplace rights, it’s high time you did. When you know your rights, you’ll be in a stronger position to hold your employer accountable.

Keep reading for more insight.


1. You Cannot Be Paid Below the Federal Minimum Wage

Do you earn at least $7.25 per hour? This is the federal minimum wage.

If you are earning anything below this amount, it’s probable that your employer is violating your legal rights. We say "probable" because there are workers who are exempt from this law.

If you’re an independent contractor, maybe you do online freelance writing, then whoever you work for isn’t legally required to pay you at least the minimum wage. The same goes for tipped professions, such as restaurant servers. But if you’re an employee who is protected by the Fair Labor Standards Act, you should earn at least the federal minimum wage.

That’s not all. Besides the federal wage laws, states also have their own wage laws. If your state’s minimum wage is higher than the federal minimum wage, then your employer should pay you at least the state’s minimum wage.

If you work in California, for example, your employer should pay you at least $12 per hour, which is the state’s minimum wage.

In addition to the minimum wage, there are also laws on overtime pay. 


2. Your Employer Must Provide a Safe and Healthy Workplace Environment

Every 7 seconds, a worker is injured on the job.

Such a chilling stat, right?

Well, your employer has a legal responsibility to provide a safe and healthy work environment for all employees. This involves identifying potential health and safety hazards and informing employees about preventative measures. If your job requires you to wear safety equipment, your employer should provide it.

However, even with most employers taking workplace health and safety seriously, accidents can and do happen. In some cases, the workers can be held responsible for their own injuries, as can be the case when a worker ignores safety warnings or fails to wear protective gear when required.

In most cases, though, workplace accidents happen as a result of the employer’s negligence. When this is the case, the injured worker is entitled to adequate compensation from the employer.

If you work for the federal government, you’re protected by the Federal Employees Compensation Act. And if you work in the private sector, your state has workers’ compensation laws that require employers to purchase a certain level of insurance coverage. If you’re injured on the line of duty, the employer’s coverage provider will compensate you accordingly.

That said, workers’ compensation claims often aren’t straightforward. Even with the law in force, some employers and insurance companies play hardball with claimants.

If you ever find yourself in this situation, don’t hesitate to hire a workers compensation lawyer. This professional has the expertise to get your employer or their insurance provider to pay up the amount you deserve.


3. Protection from Employment Discrimination

There’s a raft of federal laws that bar various types of workplace discrimination. They include:

  • Equal Pay Act
  • Age Discrimination in Employment Act
  • Americans with Disabilities Act
  • Rehabilitation Act

Every state also has laws banning workplace discrimination.

In general, though, your employer cannot discriminate you because of your gender, sex, place of origin, sexual orientation, age, physical disability, or religion. This touches on almost every workplace aspect, from hiring to promotions, compensation, job assignments, and termination.

If you feel that you’re being discriminated against, file a complaint with the relevant department in your organization. If you feel nothing is being done or your workplace has no proper mechanisms to deal with the issue, file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.


4. Family and Medical Leave

The Family and Medical Leave Act came into force in 1993.

Under this law, eligible employees have a right to 12 weeks of unpaid leave if they opt to stay home and care for a newborn or a loved one who has a serious illness. The key legal protection here is you won’t lose your job if you choose to stay off work for this period.

To be eligible for this benefit, your employer must have at least 50 employees within a 75-mile radius. Individually, you must have been with the company for at least 12 months and put in no less than 1,250 hours in the past year.


5. Whistleblower Protection

Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning, and Jeffrey Wigand are some of the most famous whistleblowers. While one can argue that things didn’t end well for these whistleblowers, the fact is employees have whistleblower protections.

If your employer is violating the law and you have the information to prove it, you can speak up without fear of losing your job or facing retribution.

Although there’s no single federal law protecting whistleblowers, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Whistleblower Safety Program is the most dominant. There are also a number of industry-specific legislation that provider whistleblower protection for workers in that industry.


Enjoy Your Legal Protections as an Employee

As an employee, you have a duty to adhere to your employer’s organizational policies and procedures. However, employers also have a responsibility to ensure they aren’t violating their workers’ rights. With this guide on legal protections for employees, you now have a clear picture of what your employer can and cannot do.

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