While there is no particular definition of employee rights, Employee rights arise from federal and state laws (Labor Laws) that, over time, have established various rules that govern the employer-employee relationship. More broadly viewed, the phrase is often used to refer to rights not explicitly mentioned in law but inferred from legal protections. Many employees also assume that they have certain rights of “fairness” which actually do not exist, but are options exercised by their employers.
For instance, in public sector employment, an employer is not required to provide paid holidays and paid vacations; these benefits are nowhere mandated by law but almost universally offered as employment benefits. The only protection and guarantee of benefits would be if the employees are covered by an employment agreement or by the terms of a labor union collective bargaining agreement. There are federal laws in place today which give employee certain rights on the job; the federal labor laws are required laws in every state.
The National Labor Relations Act
In 1935, Congress created 29 U.S.C. §151–169 (commonly referred to as The National Labor Relations Act or the NLRA) to encourage a healthy relationship between private-sector workers and their employers, which policy makers viewed as vital to the national interest. The NLRA was designed to curtail work stoppages, strikes and general labor strife, which were viewed as harmful to the U.S. economy and to the nation’s general well-being.
The NLRA extends many rights to workers who: (1) wish to form, join or support unions; (2) to workers who are already represented by unions; and (3) to workers who join together as a group while engaging in protected and concerted activities. The NLRA doesn’t end there, there are other protection also which are too many to address here.
When employees decide to select a collective bargaining agent (or union) to represent their interest before management, the employers oftentimes engage in anti-union campaigns to persuade their employees from selecting a union as their agent. In every instance, the employer’s only concern is their profits, which they will have to share with their employees if they unionize their workplace.
The NLRA permits employers to attempt to persuade employees form joining a union, but places requirements on the employer. For example, employers are not permitted to shut down facilities or threaten to do so should employees select unionization.
When employees decide to unionize, employers often engaged in campaigns previously prepared by Labor Consultant firms who are attorneys and skilled at designing carefully crafted letters designed to strike fear in employees to persuade them to vote against unionization. These actions often violates the NLRA and employers can find themselves facing charges before the National Labor Relations Board (The Administrative Agency tasked by Congress with enforcing the NLRA) for violations of such.
For example, an employee cannot be terminated because they choose to vote or campaign for a union in their workplace.Some employers have attempted to persuade employees from unionization by threats of closing the facility, which is also a violation of the act. Another common fear tactic used by employers is informing or implying to their employees that should they choose unionization, their current wage, benefits, and terms of employment are all subject to bargaining and will begin “at-scratch” or from“zero.”
Title VII of The Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended
In 1964, congress created 42 U.S.C. §2000e et. seq. (commonly referred to as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, or Title VII) which protects employees in employment discrimination issues. Title VII of The Civil Rights Act of 1964 has several amendments or updates in keeping with the changing times and the need for implementation of other anti-discriminatory protections in the workplace, for example when Title VII was enacted or amended in 1964, there were (1) no protections in place covering employees who suffered from communicable diseases in the workplace; (2) no protections in the workplace for homosexual or bisexual employees; (3) no laws in place protecting the jobs of those who became disabled while working; (4) no protections for women who became pregnant while in the workplace; (5) no protection in place for workers who were discriminated against because of their age, to name a few issues.
Title VII throughout the years, has been amended to provide protections to employees in one or more of these “protected classes”. Employers have an obligation not to discriminate in terms of hiring, firing, promotion, lay-off, demotion, or job selection against any employee because they fall under a certain protected class under Title VII. The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces the provisions of Title VII at the federal level in employment related matters.
One element of discrimination employers are often found guilty of is in the disparate treatment of women in the workplace. Many women receive lower wages than their male counterparts in managerial positions or are denied certain positions deemed to be “a man’s job” and are expected to perform only duties that are “feminine” such as secretarial and receptionist duties.
In a popular Supreme Court case of Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., 550 U.S. 618 (2007), the Court found that Lily Ledbetter, a female employee of Goodyear was the victim of discrimination when Goodyear paid male employees a higher pay rate than her because her performance reviews were discriminatorily scored lower than the males. Often instances such as this go unnoticed by victims of discrimination because employers often inform employees not to discuss their pay and raises with other employees.
The Fair Labor Standards Act
In 1938, congress created 29 U.S.C. 201, et seq. (commonly referred to as The Fair Labor Standards Act or FLSA) which applies to employees engaged in interstate commerce or employed by an enterprise engaged in commerce or in the production of goods for commerce. The FLSA mandates The Minimum wage rate of pay, overtime provisions for certain jobs, and child labor laws with respect to hours and pay. The United States Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division enforces the provisions of this act. Employers are required to pay the minimum rate of pay as set by the Legislature. Employers are not forbidden from paying wages above the minimum wage. It is rare that employers fail to comply with this obligation, because the law is unambiguous in setting the minimum rate of pay permitted of an employer.
However, there are instances where employers fail to follow minimum wage provisions in instances where the employees are paid pay and benefits together which violates the FLSA. Bonus Bucks, and other pay incentives cannot be used to satisfy the minimum wage requirements established by the legislature. Tipped employees and Piece Mill workers often encounter these problems in areas of minimum wage payments.
The most common violations of the FLSA by employers involve overtime provisions, where employees are not compensated at the required time-and-a-half rate for hours worked in excess of 40 in a workweek. Employers have been found guilty of permitting employees to work beyond 40 hours in a work week and instead of paying time-and-a-half for hours in excess of 40, the employer provides the employee “comp time” or time off from work with pay in another week as a subterfuge to the overtime laws.
Take for example, a case in California, Hernandez v. Mendoza,245 Cal. Rptr. 36, (Cal. App. 2, 1988) where the employer failed to pay the employee for hours worked in excess of forty in a week. The employee and the employer had an oral agreement to pay the employee at a rate of $300 per week. When the employee worked hours in excess of forty in the week, Mr. Hernandez (the employee) sought compensation at an overtime rate. The employer refused and the California Appeals Court found in favor of the employee and ordered the employer to back pay the employee for such hours.
None of the information contained herein is intended to constitute, nor does it constitute, legal advice. Please see an attorney for legal advice, because laws vary by state, and both Federal and state laws are subject to change.