In 2009, a group of employment attorneys and other legal specialists conducted a sweeping study intended to ferret out employment law violations in the United States. They found that egregious breaches of labor laws are “severe and widespread,” especially in low-wage industries. Unfortunately, there have been few signs of progress since then. If you are to protect yourself against exploitation by an unscrupulous employer, knowing your rights as an employee is key. Here are some things you should know about commonly violated worker protection laws:
- Safe Working Conditions
Your employer is responsible for complying with health and safety laws and providing you with a safe work environment. If you are hurt on the job, you may be eligible for worker’s compensation depending on your type of work. Worker’s comp is a no-fault system, so the cause of the accident is irrelevant. If, however, you are hurt because your employer has neglected safety measures, it may be beneficial to pursue a personal injury lawsuit, instead. You can find a personal injury lawyer or accident injury attorney in your area and ask for a consultation if you are unsure of which route to attempt.
- Fair Compensation and Overtime
Employees cannot be paid less than minimum wage for any time worked. The 2009 study found that of the employees who worked more than 40 hours in the week preceding the study, a shocking 76% were not paid overtime, as required by law. An employer may not ask you to come in early or stay late after a shift without additional payment.
- Breaks and Time Off
Each state sets minimum meal and break times depending on shift lengths. A few states and industries allow these breaks to be waived with employee consent, but very few; in general, you should be allowed at least a half hour lunch for an eight-hour shift. Certain industries have even more restrictive regulations; truck drivers, for example, are legally required to take certain rest breaks on a daily and weekly basis and record those times in log books. Not doing so is a violation of federal law. Yet of the workers surveyed in the 2009 study, nearly 70% who were entitled to a meal break received no break, had their break shortened or worked during their break.
Remember that these rights are guaranteed by the government, and any employer who denies them is acting illegally. Don’t be afraid to make an official internal complaint or, if that is unsuccessful, hire employment attorneys; employment attorneys may even offer you a free consultation if you are not sure whether or not your rights have been violated. One final piece of advice: Remember that your employer cannot retaliate against you for demanding your rights. If you make a complaint and your employer fires you rather than addressing the problem, that constitutes wrongful dismissal and is grounds for a lawsuit.