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Employment Law Overview

Employment law comprises all the rights and obligations that define a business owner's relationship with his or her employees. Understanding and complying with these sometimes overlapping state and federal laws can seem overwhelming, especially for a first time entrepreneur. FindLaw's Employment Law Overview section provides a succinct overview of wages, discrimination, medical leave, overtime pay, and other related employment law matters.

Employee Rights in the Workplace

Employees have certain rights in the workplace. These rights include fair compensation, freedom from discrimination, and a right to privacy. Certain laws - both on a federal and state level - are in place to make sure that employees receive these rights. For example, to provide employees with a safe and pleasant work environment, many states require employers to implement anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies in the workplace.

Although the right to privacy is more limited at work than it is at home, employees do have some rights to privacy. While monitoring employees' Internet use is generally allowed on a work computer, monitoring personal phone calls is generally not allowed. In addition, while employers may have the right to monitor work emails, they cannot do so if they tell the employee that the emails will be treated as private or confidential. Employees also have the right to work in a safe environment, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has various rules and regulations that businesses must abide by in the workplace.

Federal Laws Relating to Employment

There are various federal laws in place to protect employees, and as an employer, it's important to have a basic understanding of these laws. Many of these laws are designed to prevent discrimination against both employees and job applicants. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, for example, prevents employers (with 15 or more employees) from discriminating against current or prospective employees based on race, gender, color, national origin, and religion. There are other laws that protect other classes of people as well. For example the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) prohibits discrimination based on age, specifically those who are 40 years of age or older. There is also the Equal Pay Act which addresses gender discrimination by requiring employers to pay male and female employees equally when they are in same position.

Federal laws also address medical issues and provide certain medical rights to employees. For example, the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires employers to provide 12 weeks of unpaid leave to employees who give birth or adopt a child, need to take care of a family member's serious mental or physical health condition, or need to take care of their own serious mental or physical health condition. The FMLA applies only to businesses that employee 50 or more employees. The Consolidated Omnibus Reconciliation Act of 1985 (COBRA) also addresses medical issues by providing protection to employees from losing coverage under a group health plan in the event that their employment is terminated.

Hiring an Employment Law Attorney

As a small business owner you need to wear many hats, which means that you don't have time to excel at everything that is required to run a business. It can be a helpful to get some help in figuring out our obligations when it comes to employment laws and managing your employees. An employment law attorney can help you make sense of all the employment laws that are applicable to a business in your industry and location.