The United States Department of Labor, also known as DOL, plays a crucial role in overseeing and enforcing a vast array of federal laws pertaining to employment and labor. Not only have these laws been put in place to safeguard the rights but also to ensure the well-being of both employers and employees throughout the country.
Emphasizing the said line of thought further, federal laws provide clear definitions of what constitutes employment, which stands inclusive of the guidelines that determine whether an individual is classified as an employee or an independent contractor. From tax obligations and benefits eligibility to legal protections, the said classification holds significant implications for the aforementioned matters.
Adding on the aforesaid, there have been numerous statutes, such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act, that prohibit workplace discrimination based on various factors such as race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, and age. The main goal of these laws is to ensure that all individuals have equal opportunities when it comes to hiring, promotions, and other employment procedures or practices.
Rights of Employees Under the Labor Laws
1. Employee Rights-Wages and Hours
The Fair Labor Standards Act, commonly known as the FLSA, holds a significant position under the ambit of the federal law that solely establishes the standards for wages and overtime pay, which impacts both private and public employment.
The administration and enforcement of the Fair Labor Standards Act are carried out by the Wage and Hour Division, which provides certain benefits to the employees.
1.1. Minimum Wage
The Fair Labor Standards Act requires employers to pay covered employees, at least the federal minimum wage, who fall under the category of not exempt. Where the minimum wage is the lowest hourly rate that employers can legally pay to their employees, the exact minimum wage rate is determined by federal legislation and can be adjusted in a timely manner.
1.2. Overtime Pay
Mandating the idea revolving around the fact of covering the non-exempt employees who are to be paid overtime compensation at a rate of one-and-one-half times their regular rate of pay for any hours worked beyond 40 in a workweek is the essence of the Fair Labor Standards Act.
The said provision under the legislation makes it a point that employees are fairly compensated for any extra time they spend working beyond regular working hours.
1.3. Child Labor Protections
The Fair Labor Standards Act takes under its umbrella the specific provisions to protect children in the workforce. In the arena of non-agricultural operations, it not only restricts the types of jobs that children under the age of 16 can perform but also sets limitations on the hours they can work.
Not only the said thought, but it also prohibits the employment of children under the age of 18 in certain hazardous occupations deemed too dangerous.
1.4. Agricultural Operations
The Fair Labor Standards Act, in the ambit of agricultural operations, prohibits children under the age of 16 from being employed during school hours and in certain hazardous occupations.
The reason the said provisions are brought into light is solely to safeguard the well-being of young workers in the agricultural sector as well as to allow them to take up educational opportunities.
1.5. The Wage and Hour Division
Serving on the same path, the wage and hour division stands to be responsible for enforcing labor standards provisions that serve to be in relation to the Immigration and Nationality Act, shortened as the INA, that applies to nonimmigrant visa programs.
Stating the specifics, the division ensures that there lies compliance with labor standards for any outsider authorized to work in the United States under particular nonimmigrant visa categories such as H-1B, H-1B1, H-1C, and H-2A.
2. Workplace Safety and Health
Once it is understood as to which individuals are authorized to work in which arena, emphasizing the health and safety of the workplace stands as the next aspect to highlight. The governing legislation, which is the Occupational Safety and Health Act, known as OSHA, is brought into the picture and is a federal law that is overseen and enforced by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Designed to ensure safe and healthy working conditions for employees in most private industries is the mission of the Occupational Safety and Health Act.
2.1. The Occupational Safety and Health Act Regulation
The Occupational Safety and Health Act not only defines but also enforces safety and health standards for workplaces in the ambit of private industries. From establishing regulations that employers must comply with to maintain safe working conditions for their employees to cover various aspects that stand inclusive of aspects such as hazard communication, respiratory protection, machine guarding, electrical safety, and more, the Occupational Safety and Health Act has it all-encompassing.
2.2. The Occupational Safety and Health Act-Approved State Programs
There are some states that take responsibility for maintaining workplace health in their own hands, meaning that they have developed their own occupational safety and health programs that meet or exceed federal Occupational Safety and Health Act standards.
These state programs, after receiving approval under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, have the authority to regulate safety and health conditions in both private and public sector workplaces within their jurisdictions.
2.3. General Duty Clause
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, employers are pushed to have a general duty to provide their employees with a workplace that is free from recognized and serious hazards. The aforesaid refers to the fact that employers are responsible for identifying and addressing potential safety and health risks in their workplaces, even if specific regulations do not exist for those hazards.
2.4. Workplace Inspections and Investigations
Conducting workplace inspections and investigations to ensure compliance with safety and health standards is another branch stated in the Occupational Safety and Health Act. Inspections can be conducted based on targeted programs, employee complaints, or in response to reported accidents or fatalities.
It is essential to pinpoint the idea that during inspections, Occupational Safety and Health Act-approved inspectors assess the workplace, review records, interview employees, and identify any violations or hazards.
2.5. Compliance Assistance
The Occupational Safety and Health Act provides compliance assistance complemented with resources to help employers understand as well as meet their obligations under the said legislation. From guidance documents, training programs, and consultations to partnerships with industry associations and organizations, these programs and efforts aim to promote voluntary compliance followed by improving workplace safety and health.
3. Employee Rights – The Worker’s Compensation
Labor laws are known to play a vital role in facilitating a balance between the government, organizations, employers, workers, and unions. Not only are these laws designed to establish the rights and responsibilities of employees across various work settings, but they also cover a wide range of areas in which the concept of compensation stands as highly crucial.
Delving into the said idea further, the workers’ compensation programs are curated solely to provide compensation to employees who sustain injuries or illnesses in the course of their employment. Thus, it can be said that the aim of the aforesaid is to make it a point that employees receive necessary medical treatment and financial support during their recovery.
What deems it important to note is the essence that the aforementioned laws are bound to vary by jurisdiction, although it is also seen that, in general, it requires employers to provide coverage and benefits to eligible employees.
Under workers’ compensation, injured workers are authorized to receive direct payment from healthcare providers for medical expenses related to their work-related injury or illness. Not only this, but the idea that workers’ compensation can provide wage replacement benefits to employees who are unable to work temporarily or permanently due to their injuries is an aspect to focus on. Such stated benefits may be provided either as regular payments or as a lump sum settlement.
Complementing the same, it is crucial to state the fact that there are several federal laws that govern workers’ compensation not only in specific industries but also for particular groups of employees, and these are as follows:
3.1. The Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act
Shortly known as LHWCA, this act provides compensation and medical benefits to maritime workers that include individuals belonging to the category of longshoremen, shipyard workers, and harbor workers who suffer work-related injuries or occupational diseases.
3.2. The Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act
The EEOICPA bestows upon the essence of compensation or benefits to individuals who have developed illnesses due to exposure to radiation or other hazardous substances while working in the atomic weapons industry.
3.3. The Federal Employees’ Compensation Act
This act, also known as FECA, is authorized with the power to cover federal employees and provides compensation for work-related injuries and occupational diseases, as well as death benefits for their dependents.
3.4. The Black Lung Benefits Act
Providing compensation and medical advantages to coal miners who have developed black lung disease, also known as coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, as a result of their employment in the coal mining industry is this act’s main goal.
4. Employee Rights- Employee Polygraph Protection Act
The law being referred to is the Employee Polygraph Protection Act, also known as the EPPA. It not only prohibits most employers from utilizing lie detectors, including polygraph tests, on their employees but also bestows upon specific exceptions and limited circumstances under which polygraph tests may be permitted. The administration of the EPPA is carried out by the Wage and Hour Division.
4.1. Prohibition of Lie Detector Use
The Employee Polygraph Protection Act provides several advantages. The most prominent is that it prohibits private employers from requiring, requesting, or using lie detector tests, including polygraph tests, as part of the employment process. The aforesaid process comprises the pre-employment screening, during employment, and during investigations of theft or other misconduct.
4.2. Exceptions for Certain Employers
The second most important aspect the Employee Polygraph Protection Act deals with is the idea of providing exceptions for specific types of employers and industries where the use of polygraph tests may be allowed. Such aforesaid exceptions apply to employers involved in national security, pharmaceuticals, armored car services, and investigations of economic loss or injury.
4.3. Limited Circumstances for Polygraph Tests
When speaking of the applicability of exceptions, the Employee Polygraph Protection Act brings to the forefront specific requirements and conditions with regard to the usage of polygraph tests. From obtaining written consent from the employee, providing notice about the purpose and nature of the test, to adhering to
strict guidelines regarding the administration and interpretation of the test results, the conditions as stated must be fulfilled.
4.4. Enforcement and Penalties
The Wage and Hour Division serves as the adjudicating authority that is bestowed with the power to enforce compliance with the Employee Polygraph Protection Act. Violations of the law can not only result in civil penalties but also legal action against the employer. Along the same lines, employees who believe their rights under the Employee Polygraph Protection Act have been violated are empowered to file complaints with the Wage and Hour Division for any investigation with regard to the same.
5. Employee Rights- The Family and Medical Leave Act
The Family and Medical Leave Act, also known as FMLA, administered by the Wage and Hour Division, is a federal law that provides specific and crucial protections for eligible employees in larger workplaces.
The Family and Medical Leave Act has been made applicable to private sector employers that oversee 50 or more employees, as well as to public agencies and schools. To be eligible for the said legislation’s benefits, employees must have worked for their employer for at least 12 months, followed by having accumulated a minimum of 1,250 hours of service during that period.
Running on the same lines of thought, under the Family and Medical Leave Act, all eligible employees are entitled to up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave within a 12-month period, which can be exercised based on the following:
- Birth or Adoption: Employees can take leaves under the Family and Medical Leave Act for the birth of a child, the placement of a child for adoption or foster care, or to bond with the newly added family member.
- Serious Health Condition: On the same lines, leaves can be utilized by employees under the said legislation when they have a serious health condition that makes them unable to perform their job or to care for a family member, including a spouse, child, or parent who has any serious health condition.
The leaves granted under the ambit of the Family and Medical Leave Act are job-protected, which simply means all the eligible employees are entitled to return to the same position or an equivalent position after their leaves are completed. During the said leave, employers must, in addition to all the other aspects, maintain the employee’s group health insurance benefits.
What stands out under the said legislation is the fact that in certain situations, employees are authorized to take leaves intermittently, meaning in separate blocks of time or on a reduced schedule when medically necessary. They are also empowered to take a break for qualifying reasons related to the care of a newborn or newly adopted child.
From the employees required to provide their employer with advance notice of their need for the said leave to the employers requesting medical certifications to verify the need for leave due to a serious health condition, the Family and Medical Leave Act safeguards the rights of both the individuals as well as the organization.
It deems it essential to pinpoint that the Family and Medical Leave Act works in sync with other applicable laws, such as state leave laws and the Americans with Disabilities Act, which grants additional rights and protections for employees.
6. Employee Rights- Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Workers
The MSPA, or The Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act, is a federal law that not only regulates the hiring and employment practices of agricultural employers, farm labor contractors, and associations utilizing migrant and seasonal agricultural workers but also establishes various provisions to protect the rights and well-being of these workers. Like the previous legislation, the administration of the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act is overseen by the Wage and Hour Division.
Elaborating on the said legislation further, the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act puts forth certain regulations that ensure agricultural workers receive proper wage protections. From bringing into play minimum wage requirements and mandating timely payment of wages to prohibit certain unauthorized deductions from workers’ pay, the legislation covers it all.
Running simultaneously is the fact that the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act establishes safety and health standards for housing provided to migrant workers by their employers. Complementing the same thought, it also imposes requirements for transportation arrangements, which makes it a point that workers are transported in safe and appropriate conditions.
In addition to drafting safety and health standards, the category of farm labor contractors who recruit, hire, or employ migrant and seasonal agricultural workers is also covered by the aforementioned rules. The said must register with the Department of Labor under the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act, as this registration helps regulate these contractors and promotes compliance with labor standards.
The fact that employers who are covered under the ambit of the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act must provide workers with specific information related to their employment that stands inclusive of terms and conditions, wages, and employment-related obligations serves as a highlight. Such a disclosure brings into play the idea that workers have access to essential information about their rights and responsibilities.
7. Employee Rights- The Construction Industry
Several agencies in the construction industry administer programs that make it a point to comply with various labor and employment regulations.
The foremost agency that syncs with the concept of safeguarding employee rights in the said sector is the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which serves be responsible for enforcing occupational safety and health standards in the construction industry.
Not only bringing into existence but also enforcing regulations that protect workers from hazards on construction sites, such as fall protection, electrical safety, and hazardous materials handling, is the goal of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Not only the aforementioned, but the fact that the said agency conducts inspections, investigates complaints, and promotes workplace safety through education and outreach programs serves to be of great importance.
The second agency that vouches solely for the protection of employees is the Wage and Hour Division.
From administering the Davis-Bacon and related acts, which require the payment of prevailing wages and benefits on federally funded or assisted construction projects to ensuring the fact that contractors and subcontractors pay their workers wages that are determined by the United States Department of Labor to be prevailing for similar work in the locality, the said division manages it end-to-end.
Apart from the aforementioned, the division also investigates and enforces compliance with the wage and benefit requirements.
Standing in the third position is the division commonly known as the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, which enforces Executive Order 11246, which requires federal construction contractors and subcontractors, as well as federally assisted construction contractors, to provide equal employment opportunities.
From prohibiting discrimination in hiring, compensation, promotions, and other employment practices based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, or disability to conducting compliance evaluations, investigating complaints, and ensuring the fact that contractors meet their affirmative action obligations, the OFCCP takes all the said aspects under its supervision.
8. Employee Rights- The Sexual Harassment and Employment Laws
Sexual harassment is indeed a form of discrimination that is restricted under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Complementing the said line of thought is the fact that Title VII prohibits employers from discriminating against employees based on their sex, which stands inclusive of subjecting them to unwelcome sexual advances, requesting sexual favors, or executing any other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.
Along the same lines of thought, employers have a responsibility to prevent and address sexual harassment in the workplace, where they are expected to have policies and procedures in place to prevent and promptly address any complaints of sexual harassment.
Employees who experience sexual harassment are bestowed with the right to file complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which is the federal agency responsible for enforcing Title VII under the Civil Rights Act. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission not only investigates complaints but also takes appropriate actions to remedy the situation, which may include exercising legal remedies on behalf of the aggrieved employee.
In addition to the concept of prevention of sexual harassment, there are whistleblower protection laws that are brought into play solely to safeguard employees who report workplace violations, misconduct, or illegal activities.
The Whistleblower Protection Act complemented the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, an example of laws that protect employees from retaliation when they call out wrongdoings. These laws are designed to encourage individuals to come forward with information about illegal activities or other violations without fear of adverse consequences.
Under these whistleblower protection laws, employees who believe they have faced retaliation for reporting violations are authorized to file complaints with the appropriate government agencies, such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration or the Securities and Exchange Commission, as these agencies investigate complaints as well as take actions to protect the rights of whistleblowers followed by holding employers accountable for any retaliatory actions.
When the citizens of the United States engage in the working sector, issues are bound to erupt, and this is where understanding and recognizing the rights of such employees comes into play. The United States Department of Labor is a body that enforces a vast array of federal laws pertaining to employment and labor and hence serves as a torchbearer for safeguarding the rights of the said employees as well as the employers.