Lesser Known Labor Laws All Employees (and Employers) Need to Know

Are you running a compliant business? Read this essential guide to find out.

According to the Bureau for Labor Statistics, the average employee between 25 and 54 with children spends 8.9 hours a day working and only 1 hour a day eating and drinking. Seems about right. In our workaholic solar system, the office is the sun, and the employees are the asteroid belt, or something, revolving around it (we're not space experts). Whatever the metaphor you choose to describe it, and whatever industry you're in, working will likely take up the biggest chunk of your day, and the government is well aware.

While some of us keep in our own little bubble at work, no business is exempt from following standard labor practices set forth by the United States Department of Labor. In fact, there are 180 federal laws set in place to help regulate the practices of 10 million employers and protect the rights of 125 million employees country-wide. If your workplace is law-abiding, you'll have the required labor law posters visible to all employees on the premises. But do you ever take a moment to read them? Many employees are not aware of their breadth of rights, and many employers (especially for small businesses), are not aware of them either. These three impertinent labor laws are essential for any 9 to 5'er, or 9 to 9'er, to know.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration

Under the laws of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, otherwise known as OSHA, employees are required to work in a safe environment free of hazards that span a variety of categories including scaffolding, electrical, and machine safety. However, even if you don't work in a visibly "dangerous" environment, or if the problem you are experiencing will not cause serious injury or death, OSHA still protects you under De Minimus violations. While inspectors wouldn't fine a company for this, they will speak to the employer and keep the complaint on file.

Regardless of knowledge of OSHA violation, all employees have the right to file a complaint and request a workplace inspection if the employee believes there is a health risk for violations that currently exist or existed in the past 6 months. All confidentiality will be upheld. To file a complaint online, click here. You can also fax, mail, or call in a complaint, here. You will get protection from retaliation if you file a complaint. This means, you can't be fired, demoted, or transferred as a result of the complaint.

For more on health violations that could be lurking in your workplace, click here.

Family and Medical Leave Act

We all think we know about maternity leave, right? But there's always confusion as to whether there's a certain time limit, whether or not it's paid, and does that go for adoption, too? Under the Family and Medical Leave Act, employers of 50 or more are required to provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave to eligible employees. Eligibility includes within one year of the birth or adoption of a child, or a serious illness of the employee, employee's spouse, child or parent. This leave is not required for other family members or close friends.

Eligibility also involves having worked for the employer for at least 1 year, and at least 1,250 hours (that's a little over 52 days), 1 year preceding the leave. For more on whether you or your employee are eligible for for workplace leave, click here.

Wage and Hour Division

While many of us work 40-hour-per-week jobs, certain divisions keep employees working long into the night. But how do you know when you're working overtime? Can employers tell employees they're not allowed to work overtime?

According to the United States Wage and Hour Division, covered, nonexempt employees are required to receive overtime pay for hours exceeding 40 per workweek (this also means a regularly recurring period of 168 hours or 7 consecutive 24-hour periods) at a rate of one and half times the regular. And yes, for employees over 16 years old, there is "no limit" on the number of hours they may work in any given workweek. However, overtime pay is not required when employees work on weekends or holidays.

According to the Fair Labor Standards Act, "employ" means "to suffer or permit to work." The workweek includes all the time during which an employee is required to be on work premises or to their assigned workplace. The workday includes the time in between which the employee starts his or her "principal activity" and ends it: "The workday may therefore be longer than the employee's scheduled shift, hours, tour of duty, or production line time." This fact means that an employee can voluntarily keep working after his or her shift is up, to "finish an assigned task or to correct errors." Whatever the reason, the Fair Labor Standards Act requires that these hours be paid, as they are spent doing work.

For more information on overtime and other wage laws, check this out.

Labor laws are impertinent. They protect the rights of the most valuable assets to any business: its employees. It's essential to be aware of the U.S. labor laws in order to comply and uphold the business standards set in place to keep America's labor force safe.

For more on state-specific labor laws, click here.

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