Know Your Legal Rights as an Employee

The working world is governed by a number of important rules that apply to you as an employee. The good news is that most of these rules exist to protect your legal rights. Start your new job with the advantage of knowing some of your basic employee rights:

Do I qualify for minimum wage? If so, how much is that?

Federal law requires most employers to pay entry-level workers a minimum wage, currently $7.25 per hour. But some jobs aren't covered by minimum-wage laws. The U.S. Department of Labor has more information on which jobs are covered and the latest information on the federal minimum wage.

Am I entitled to overtime pay?

If you are classified as a nonexempt employee, you are usually—although not always—entitled to overtime pay, which is a higher hourly pay rate that generally applies to work time that’s over and above 40 hours per week. Although rates vary from employer to employer, overtime pay typically is equal to one-and-a-half times your regular hourly wage. For instance, if you’re paid $10 per hour, your overtime rate would be $15 per hour.

How do I know if I'm exempt or nonexempt?

If you’re classified as a nonexempt employee, it means that you’re covered under the provisions of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Under that law, employees must be paid based on the hours they work, including overtime, and must be paid at least the minimum wage. Ask your manager or human resources department what your employee status is, then make sure it’s correctly reflected in your paycheck.

Exempt employees aren’t covered under the FLSA. In general, they are paid on a salaried basis and aren’t required to be paid overtime, or they fall into one of the labor categories specified by the federal government. Employees included in the exempt categories are certain seasonal and recreational workers, companions for the elderly, and taxicab drivers, among others.

If I have a disability, can I receive special consideration on the job?

As a disabled employee, you have the right to reasonable accommodations that make it possible for you to do your job. You also have legal protection against discrimination and harassment. These rights are guaranteed under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

What happens if I get hurt on the job?

If you've suffered a job-related illness or injury, you may be entitled to have your medical expenses paid for through your employer's workers' compensation insurance program.

What about discrimination?

Federal laws have identified specific groups of people with characteristics that fall into a protected class. These people qualify for special protection against discrimination in hiring practices. At present, federal employment laws prohibit discrimination in areas such as a person's race or ethnic background, religion, gender, age (for those 40 years and older), national origin, veteran status, disability status, or family status (having children or not).

What can I do if I don't get paid for work I did?

You have the right to be paid for work you completed under the terms of your employment. If you feel that you've been unfairly treated in any matter involving past-due compensation, bring it to the attention of your immediate supervisor. If the matter isn't resolved within a reasonable time, you have the option of filing a complaint with the federal Wage and Hour Division.

[Any reference to a specific company, commercial product, process, or service does not constitute or imply an endorsement or recommendation by National Endowment for Financial Education.]

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