Federal law balances the needs of corporations and employees through federal rules and regulations, as well as contract law. Federal labor law dictates what practices are and are not legal in the workplace, encompassing everything from protected leave to hiring practices to the minimum wage. If your startup or small business has even one employee, you must be sure that you are following all federal labor laws and employment laws. Otherwise, you risk not only an employee lawsuit, but also harsh federal sanctions. A Priori labor and employment lawyer can help you ensure you're in compliance with all federal labor laws and address any issues that do arise.
Employment and Termination
Federal labor law regulates the legal requirements for employment and termination. Employment procedures must be fair, nondiscriminatory, and protect the basic interests of employees. While termination requirements under federal law are limited, protections are in place against firing employees for discriminatory reasons.
“At Will” Employment
All jobs are assumed to be “at will” employment unless stated otherwise in an employment contract. This means that both employers and employees are free to terminate the relationship at any time for any reason. Because of this, wrongful dismissal lawsuits are rarely won by employees. Still, the publicity surrounding such a case can bring a negative publicity, so often companies attempt to resolve such issues via negotiation or mediation prior to any litigation process.
For certain employees, you may elect to enter into an employment contract describing the terms and conditions of their employment. Such a contract may include expectations for performance, job responsibilities, compensation, disciplinary procedures, benefits, accepted reasons for termination and any other conditions of the job. Some classes of employees and union members are protected from at will termination by such employee contracts. Instead, the employment contract details required procedures and requirements for terminating such covered employees.
Discrimination and Harassment
Workplace discrimination and harassment is illegal under federal labor laws. This means that all workplaces must have procedures in place to stop and punish discrimination based on race, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, disability, or any other protected class. In addition, workplaces are expected to have trainings in place to demonstrate what behaviors could be considered sexual or other harassment—and prevent their occurrence in the workplace. If an employee is found to have suffered harassment or discrimination due to a company’s negligence to act against a bad actor, that employee may be able to bring a claim for hostile work environment.
Wages and Overtime
Federal labor laws dictate how wages must be paid, including required overtime procedures for hourly employees. Not strictly adhering to these regulations can lead to your company owing not only backpay and settlements, but also sanctions handed down by the federal government.
Unions and Labor Union Law
Unions are intended to protect workers by providing them a way to negotiate for fair wages and working conditions as a group. This right is protected by federal labor union laws. All employers must allow unions and other protected collective actions to carry on free from reprisal or punishment.
Workplace Standards and Health and Safety Compliance
All businesses must comply with workplace health and safety standards and laws. Most of these are elaborated in OSHA regulations. Strict OSHA compliance is vital if you do not want to face costly actions at a later date.
Family and Medical Leave
Federal law does not mandate any paid leave, but the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 requires covered employers to provide employees job-protected unpaid leave for qualified medical and family reasons. Such reasons include personal or family illness, family military leave, pregnancy, adoption, or the foster care placement of a child. Many companies nowadays do provide some paid leave for salaried employees.
Can my employer require me sign a non-compete agreement?
An employer can require you to sign a non-compete agreement as a condition of your employment contract. That said, in general courts are wary of non-compete agreements and tend to enforce only limited and carefully drafted non-compete clauses.
If I report my employer for violating federal labor law, can I be fired?
No. Federal whistleblower laws should protect you from losing your job in retaliation for reporting an employers illegal conduct.
Do I have to provide my employees with healthcare under federal law?
The Affordable Healthcare Act now requires all businesses with 50 or more full-time employees to provide health insurance to their full-time employees and dependents or pay a penalty.