How Can I Protect Myself from Unfair Treatment at Work?
This is the basic question many potential clients ask us when they come to our Cleveland, Ohio-based employee rights law firm. Unfortunately, there is no standard answer. Each case is different, and employment laws do not cover all instances of unfair and unjust treatment.
What a Cleveland employee rights attorney can do is help a person understand their rights under federal, state, and local laws. Violations of legally protected rights provide grounds for taking action to end unfair treatment.
A lawyer can also advise a worker on how to use their employer’s system for reporting and resolving mistreatment. When taking such steps does not eliminate the problem, a lawyer can then assist with gathering, organizing, and presenting evidence of mistreatment to regulatory agencies and courts.
Any effort to protect yourself against mistreatment at work begins with knowing your rights as an employee. This article contains brief descriptions of some federal employment laws, but consulting with an employee rights attorney in Cleveland or wherever you live will provide a fuller picture.
You Must Be Paid for the Hours You Work
The Fair Labor Standards Act(FLSA) mandates the payment of a minimum wage to employees who get paid by the hour and to employees who regularly receive tips. The FLSA also requires overtime pay for hourly and tipped workers who work more than 40 hours during a 7-day workweek.
Each state sets its own minimum wage, and many exceptions to overtime eligibility exist. For instance, the basic minimum wage in Ohio for 2021 is $8.80 per hour. The tipped wage is $4.40 per hour, but a tipped employee’s average hourly pay must average at least $8.80. In other words, when tips do not make up the difference, the employer must pay the remainder to ensure the employee is paid minimum wage.
Regarding overtime, managers and salaried employees are generally not eligible to receive overtime pay under the FLSA. Employees who earn more than the salary threshold can also be denied overtime pay. The salary threshold changes frequently, but an employee rights attorney will know the current figure.
Some illegal practices employers use to deny workers a minimum wage and overtime pay include assigning bogus managerial titles, requiring work off the clock, telling tipped workers they do not qualify to be paid time-and-half after putting in 40 hours, and designating actual employees as independent contractors who are not covered by the FLSA.
You Cannot Be Paid Less Because You Are a Woman
The Equal Pay Act (EPA) protects a worker’s right to demand the same wage or salary as a coworker of the opposite sex who performs the same job. The EPA covers men and women, but the overwhelming majority of cases involve women who receive lower pay than their male counterparts.
Employers fight EPA claims very strenuously, and the law permits pay differentials based on time spent with the company, skill level, special training, and performance. Enforcing your rights to equal pay will require partnering with an employee rights attorney.
You Have the Right to Work Without Experiencing Discrimination or Abuse
A number of federal laws make it illegal to mistreat or deny employment opportunities to workers on the basis of the following:
- National origin,
- Sexual orientation,
- Gender identity,
- Age when older than 40,
- Pregnancy, or
- Military service or veteran status.
Depending on where you live, state and local laws may provide additional protections against discrimination in employment. In most instances, enforcing your rights under laws that prohibit discrimination require evidence that that mistreatment was frequent and severe. Simple teasing and one-off comments will not support a discrimination claim.
It is also important to show that you experienced an adverse consequence of the discrimination. For example, grounds for taking legal action exist if the discrimination caused you to lose your job, you decided to quit to protect yourself, you were passed over for a promotion you were qualified to receive, or you suffered emotional trauma or physical injury.
Your Employer Must Consider Making Accommodations for a Disability
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires managers and supervisors to make good faith efforts to accommodate job applicants or employees. The ADA does not, however, compel an employer to agree to every request an applicant or employee submits.
The gap between what a worker can request and what an employer is willing or able to provide is often large. This is where an employee rights attorney can step in on behalf of their client to find evidence that an employee’s requested accommodation was never seriously considered or improperly denied. Uncovering such evidence often requires accessing business records, which is something an experienced lawyer will know how to do.
You Can Request Leave to Deal with Medical Emergencies or Complete Military Service
Two federal laws cover these circumstances. First, the Family and Medical Leave Act(FMLA)gives a person who has worked at least one year for their employer the right to take unpaid leave to tend to a personal health problem or to care for a family member. Generally, up to 12 weeks of FMLA leave is available during each 12-month period. The leave can be taken intermittently, and FMLA leave can only be denied on limited grounds after an employee has given proper advance notice of their intent to take it.
The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Act(USERRA) requires employers to grant leave to employees who are called to active duty in the military. USERRA specifically protects the civilian employment of members of the National Guard and Reserves. While an employee is completing their military duty, their employer must hold their job and guarantee return at a pay rate and level of responsibility equivalent to what the employee had when they left.
Your Employer Cannot Punish or Fire You for Reporting Problems
Employers do not welcome complaints about illegal pay practices, discrimination, or violations of FMLA or USERRA rights. Managers and supervisor often take out this displeasure on the employees who raise red flags. Employees who address unlawful practices in the workplace can find themselves demoted, reassigned, verbally or physically abused, forced to quit, or fired.
Such retaliation is always illegal. Sadly, it is also quite common. If your mistreatment at work has escalated to retaliation, contact an employee rights attorney who can offer advice on the steps you can take to hold your employer legally and financially accountable.
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