For most of us, work is our livelihood so it is extremely important that our employment rights are protected. Our success as individuals can be handicapped if we suffer at the hands of employers who refuse to hire or discriminate because of age, race, religion, or gender. Even those who are already employed must protect their careers so as to not fall victim to an employer’s practice of unfair discipline, firing, denial of training, promotion/demotion, reducing salaries, or harassment. Employees must also be cautious that their employers are not engaging in unfair labor practices and are complying with applicable minimum wage and overtime laws.
Discrimination claims can be difficult to bring if you are not represented by counsel who is familiar with the administrative process and statutory framework. This is because anyone who has been discriminated against or is a victim of unfair labor practices must first bring their claim to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC is an administrative agency and will investigate and assess whether an action can be pursued against the employer. It is important to note that an employee only has 180 days from the time the discrimination occurs to bring a claim to the EEOC. Failure to file the claim with the EEOC within 180 days bars the employee’s right to bring the claim against the employer.
However complicated the process may seem, it is important to protect your employment rights. Depending on the nature of the case, you may be entitled to:
- back pay,
- front pay,
- reasonable accommodation, or
- other actions that will make an individual “whole” (in the condition s/he would have been but for the discrimination).
Minimum Wage and Over Time Claims
Among the many provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the most important provision is the prohibition of an employer from paying its employees below the minimum wage and requiring an employee to work over forty (40) hours in a week without paying overtime. In Texas, the minimum wage is set at $7.25 per hour with exceptions for employees who receive tips or are disabled. Straight time is set at 40 hours in a 7-day work week. However, once the 40-hour threshold is passed, the employer must pay the employee overtime equal to time and a half times the hourly wage rate. There is also no maximum amount of time an employee can work in a week.
In claims under the FLSA, either federal or state, it is crucial that an employee bring a cause of action within 2 years of a violation. If you wait longer than 2 years, your claim will be barred and you will not be able to proceed in a cause of action against an employer. If you bring a timely cause of action against your employer you may be entitled to compensation for unpaid or underpaid back wages under FLSA guidelines.
Below are brief descriptions of other important federal employment law statutes.
Civil Rights Act
Under the Civil Rights Act, an employer violates this Act when they refuse to hire, discipline, fire, deny training, fail to promote, pay less, demote, or harass based on discriminatory factor, including race, national origin, gender, or religion.
Fair Labor Standards Act
A federal act that sets a minimum standard wage and a maximum work week of 40 hours in industries engaged in interstate commerce. This Act also regulates the hours and type of work that can be performed by teenagers.
Age Discrimination in Employment Act
Federal legislation that prohibits unfair and discriminatory treatment in employment on the basis of age. The Act generally covers individuals at least 40 years of age.
Equal Pay Discrimination
The federal Equal Pay Act requires any employer that is already subject to the Fair Labor Standards Act (the federal wage and hour law) to provide equal pay to men and women who perform “equal work,” unless the difference in pay is caused by differences in seniority, merit or some other factor that is not based upon sex.
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) bars discrimination against employees or applicants who are over the age of forty, by any employer with twenty or more employees. An employee may often state a claim under the ADEA if he or she is fired or forced to retire, and is then replaced by a younger employee. Unlike in Title VII cases, however, many courts have held that the ADEA does not prohibit practices that have a “disparate impact” on older employees. Instead, the ADEA only bars deliberate discrimination against older workers.
The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act bars discrimination against those who are disabled. The ADA bars discrimination by private employers with more than fifteen employees, and the Rehabilitation Act applies to all government entities and federal contractors. Unlike other civil rights laws, which protect easily-identifiable classes such as race or gender, in order to be protected by the ADA or the Rehabilitation Act, an employee or applicant must show that he or she is, in fact, disabled, has a history of being disabled, or was regarded by the employer as being disabled. Once the employee or applicant makes this showing, however, he or she is not only protected from discrimination, but is also entitled to “reasonable accommodation” for the disability if necessary. Reasonable accommodation may include a modified work schedule or work duties, unpaid time off, or special devices that will help the employee in the performance of his or her job duties.
National Origin Discrimination
The Immigration Reform and Control Act bars any employer with more than three employees from discriminating against a U.S. citizen, or an “intended citizen” (such as one who may work legally but is not yet a citizen) on the basis of his or her national origin. The law was enacted at the same time that the government strengthened its penalties against employers who hire illegal aliens, and was intended to prevent employers from overreacting to the new laws by refusing to hire anyone
If you have experienced any of these described employment practices at work or believe you have been wrongfully terminated, unfairly compensated, or a victim of discrimination, contact Gilman & Allison, LLP for a free consultation and evaluation.