What To Know About Your Employee Rights

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"My boss is making me work weekends. Can he do that?"

"Can I get fired for reporting discrimination at my job?"

"Why don't I get paid overtime?"

These are some of the most common questions employees have about their rights at work. In some cases, the answers are definitive. In other cases, the answers may depend on where you work and how long you've worked there.

This article will explore common employee rights issues, so you will fully understand if you're being treated fairly. We'll also explain what actions you can take if you believe you're not getting a fair shake at work.

Wages and Overtime

You may have a lot of questions about the money you earn and if you're being paid fairly. The best source of information about issues like that is the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD). 

That agency is in charge of enforcing the laws that govern issues like minimum wage, overtime, and child labor.  All those laws together protect more than 143 million workers in more than nine million businesses across the country.

Minimum Wage

The current federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. Some states have set the minimum wage higher than the federal requirement. You can see what minimum wage looks like in your state by searching online or by viewing that information in table form. 

It's important to understand that the laws governing minimum wage and overtime only apply to employees covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). You can be covered in a few different ways.

  • If you work for companies that do at least $500,000 in business every year
  • If you work for hospitals, nursing homes, schools or the government 
  • If your job involves interstate commerce

You're also covered if you work as a domestic service worker doing housekeeping, child care, or cooking. 


If you're covered under the FLSA, you may be eligible for overtime pay. You're entitled to overtime pay of time and a half for any time you work over 40 hours a week. So, if your hourly wage is $20 an hour, your overtime rate is $30 an hour.

Not everyone is eligible for overtime, even if they're covered by the FLSA. These employees are referred to as "exempt" workers. Here are some of the workers designated as exempt by the federal government: 

  • Executive, administrative, and professional employees
  • Employees of seasonal amusement establishments
  • Babysitters
  • Home health companions to the elderly or disabled
You can find the complete list of exempt employees on the Department of Labor website. You do have several options to recover unpaid wages. Among them, you can file a confidential complaint with the WHD. 

Employee Rights in Background Checks

95 percent of employers run background checks on potential employees. These screening reports can include a criminal history, credit check, and driving record.

Employers may also use a background check to verify your employment and confirm the information you included in your application or your resume. 85 percent of employers say they discovered false information on an applicant's resume.

Simply put, an employer wants to make sure the person they're hiring will do a good job and won't put the company at risk by behaving badly. A background check might reveal an applicant's DUI conviction which could exclude him from a job that requires him to drive a company vehicle. 

An applicant who was convicted of writing bad checks probably won't be hired for a job that requires her to manage the company's finances. 

You do have a number of rights that govern how much information a company can collect and what it can do with that information.

Here are some examples:

  • You must give the employer permission to collect this information. Typically, that question will be asked somewhere on the application. You have the right to say no, but that could disqualify you for the job. 

  • There are also limits on how far back an employer can look. Most background reports are limited to the last seven years. This varies from state to state, so it's a good idea to research the laws in your state.

  • Some states don't allow an employer to disqualify an applicant based solely on an arrest record.  The reason for this is pretty simple. Not everyone who is arrested is ultimately convicted. In most cases, arrests that do not result in conviction must be removed from a person's criminal history after seven years. 

If the employer decides not to hire you based on something in your background check, they are required to give you something called pre-adverse action notice. The notice will explain what information the employer received that caused them to take this negative action and where they got that information.

You also have a right to dispute that information with the company that ran the background check. 

Protection Against Retaliation

You've heard the phrase, "If you see something, say something". If you see behavior at work that you believe violates your employee rights or the rights of someone else, the law protects you against retaliation. 

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) oversees the Whistleblower Protection Program. It enforces more than 20 different laws that protect employees who report health and safety violations at their workplace. 

Some whistleblower laws govern the reporting of civil rights violations and financial mismanagement. Others cover issues like food safety and transportation. You can find a list of the statutes and who is covered by each in the OSHA database.

Your employer cannot punish you for filing a whistleblower claim. They can't demote you, fire you, or cut your pay. 

General Employee Protections

The overall rights of employees are spelled out pretty clearly by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). In fact, these rights provide the foundation for the issues we've talked about in this article.

You have the right not to be harassed or discriminated against in the workplace. You have the right to equal pay for equal work. You have the right to reasonable accommodations if you have a disability or a medical condition. You have many employee rights and don't let anyone tell you otherwise!

We hope this article has been helpful as you learn more about employee rights and employer obligations. Please browse our blog for more articles about employee workplace rights. Visit the HR and Careers sections of the Bootstrap Business Blog right now.

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