Your rights

Be clear on what they are and how they can be safeguarded

Employment law varies from state to state and based on your chosen profession and the size of the company for which you work. Federal laws regulate many employers, though. According to, you may be entitled to certain legal protections in the workplace, including:
  • The right not to be discriminated against based on your race, national origin, skin color, gender, pregnancy, religious beliefs, disability or age (and in some places, marital status or sexual orientation.)

  • The right to a workplace free of harassment

  • The right to be paid at least the minimum wage, and an overtime premium for any hours worked over 40 in one week (or, in some places, over 8 hours in one day)

  • The right to a safe workplace.

  • The right to take leave to care for your own or a family member's serious illness, or following the birth or adoption of a child.

  • The right to some privacy in personal matters.

The Department of Labor outlines several of the federal laws regulating employment. For example, the Family Medical Leave Act protects your job, for up to 4 months. It provides for unpaid leave with health benefits for the birth of a child or to adopt a child, to care for a family member with a serious medical condition or to deal with your own serious medical condition.

The Fair Labor Standards Act regulates minimum wage and overtime, as well as child labor and record keeping requirements. It ensures that for many positions, workers will receive at least $5.15 an hour, and be paid at least time and a half for hours worked over 40 in a work week. It also clearly delineates which workers are exempt for the wage and overtime laws, such as executives, administrative staffs and professionals.

The Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act all protect workers against discrimination in the workplace. Occupational Safety and Health Administration's, or OSHA, regulates work environments to prevent work-related injuries, illnesses, and deaths.

"Oceana's Law for the Layperson: Employee Rights in the Workplace," by Margaret C. Jasper recommends taking the following steps to preserve your rights in the workplace:
  • Keep your own personnel file, complete with all employment information, including performance reviews.

  • Keep a journal of significant events, which includes the time, date, place, people present and statements made.

  • Discuss the problem in private with your employer, calmly explaining the facts.

  • Attempt to use mediation or arbitration to resolve the conflict.

  • If other avenues fail, consider taking legal action.
To be clear on what rights workers in your state have, consult the state department of labor. If you ever have any questions as to your legal rights, consult an attorney.

Sources:, "Asserting Your Rights in the Workplace"; U.S. Department of Labor; "Oceanas Law for the Layperson: Employee Rights in the Workplace," by Margaret C. Jasper.



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