Employment laws exist to protect workers against exploitation; however, it can be difficult for them to do this when workers are so often underinformed as to what their rights are. Below are answers to five of the most common — and most commonly misunderstood — employment-related questions you might have:
- What Is At-Will Employment?
Most employment in the United States is “at will,” meaning that an employer can fire you at any time even if you have done nothing wrong. Your employer is not required to tell you why you are being dismissed, or give you a warning. However, there are some important limits in place; you cannot, for example, be fired based on discrimination against your race, color, religion, sex, national origin or disability status. Some jurisdictions expand protections to other categories such as pregnancy or sexual orientation.
- What Counts as Sexual Harassment?
There are two general categories under which sexual harassment falls. The first is the creation of a hostile work environment. This could be created by someone telling vulgar jokes, making up rumors, displaying pornographic materials, etc. The second is called quid pro quo, and occurs when someone offers favors or threatens you based on your willingness to engage in sexual acts.
- Am I Entitled to Overtime Pay?
This issue is more complicated than you might think. The first thing to check is whether your employer is governed by the Fair Labor Standards Act (most are). But then you must figure out whether you are an “exempt” or “nonexempt” employee. Employees who are exempt — normally managers, independent contractors, some salespeople and other groups — are not entitled to overtime pay, even if they work more than 40 hours in a week.
- What If I Get Fired for Speaking Up?
You might be afraid to stand up for your rights as an employee because you can’t afford to be fired. It’s important, however, to know that employers are prohibited from retaliating against an employee who insists on his or her rights or points out a violation of labor laws. If you have been fired for doing this, then you need to talk to employment rights attorneys about a wrongful dismissal lawsuit.
- When Do I Need an Employment Lawyer?
In general, it’s always best to try to handle issues through your company’s internal hierarchy before filing a lawsuit; this can help you avoid litigation altogether in many cases, and strengthen your claim later if you do have to go to court. However, you may want to consult with an employment lawyer earlier than that in order to determine whether your grievance is backed up by the law.
What other questions would you like to ask employment lawyers? Join the discussion in the comments.