Labor Laws and Issues

Learn about the employment laws and issues that people ask USA.gov and 1-844-USA-GOV1 about the most.

Discrimination and Harassment at Your Job

Discrimination

Discrimination is the unfair hiring practices or treatment of someone based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age, disability or genetic (personal or family medical history) information.

Harassment

Harassment is unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age, disability or genetic (personal or family medical history) information. Harassment becomes illegal when the offensive conduct:

  • continues and becomes a condition of employment, or
  • is severe enough to create a work environment that is intimidating, hostile, or abusive.

Filing a Complaint

If are being harassed or discriminated against, file a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). A complaint can be filed within 180 days from the time of the event; this time limit could be extended in some situations.

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Employment Background Checks

Local, state, or federal government agencies and private employers may perform background checks when they hire an employee.

The FBI has contact information for the state agencies that conduct background checks

Request a Copy of a Federal Background Check or an Identification Record

The FBI website has information on how to request a federal background check or an identification record request.

Learn how to challenge inaccurate or incomplete information that appears on your record.

Arrest Records

If you are looking for information on arrest records, contact the appropriate law enforcement agency.

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Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal labor law that allows an eligible employee to take an extended leave of absence from work due to illness or to care for a sick family member. The leave guaranteed by the FMLA is unpaid and is available to those working for employers with 50 or more employees.

Protections under FMLA

The law recognizes the needs of balancing family and work obligations and promises numerous protections to eligible employees. Some of these protections include:

  • 12 work weeks of leave per 12 months for various reasons:
    • Caring for a newborn child
    • Handling adoption or foster care placement issues
    • Caring for a sick child, spouse, or parent
    • Being physically unable to perform one's job
  • Restoration to the same position upon return to work - If the same position is unavailable, the employer must provide the worker with a position that is substantially equal in pay, benefits, and responsibility.
  • Protection of employee benefits even while on leave - An employee is entitled to all benefits that he/she was receiving before going on leave.

Questions or Reporting a Violation of the FMLA

If you have unanswered questions about the FMLA:

  • Call 1-866-4-USA-DOL (1-866-487-2365) or TTY at 1-877-889-5627 for additional assistance or
  • Visit the Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division website.

If you believe that someone violated your rights under the FMLA, you should:

  • Call 1-866-487-9243 or visit the Wage and Hour Division website to be directed to the nearest office for assistance. There are Wage and Hour Division offices throughout the country with trained professionals to help you.
  • Have this information available when filing a complaint. 

Employer Information

Employers covered by the FMLA have specific rights and responsibilities under the law.

If you are an employer with concerns about false FMLA leave:

  • Request that the employee provide a medical certification at your expense, or a recertification during a period of FMLA leave.
  • With the employee's permission, a healthcare provider representing your company may contact the employee's healthcare provider to:
    • Clarify information in the medical certification or
    • Confirm that it was provided by the healthcare provider.
    • The inquiry may not seek additional information regarding the employee's health condition or that of a family member.
  • Contact the Department Of Labor with any questions about FMLA compliance and seek advice of your company's legal and human resources departments.

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Labor Unions

A labor union or trade union is an organization of workers. The union bargains with employers on behalf of union members and negotiates labor contracts. Elected union leaders negotiate specific items of employment including:

  • Pay and benefits
  • Complaint procedures
  • Hiring and firing guidlines
  • Help with unfair labor practices

Agreements union leaders negotiate are binding on the union members, the employer, and in some cases, on other non-union workers. Labor unions can be found in the private sector, federal agencies or at a state or local government place of employment.

Private Sector Employees

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is an independent federal agency which has oversight to protect the rights of most private-sector employees to organize and to determine whether to have unions as their bargaining representative.

If you and your co-workers want to start a union, or join or end your representation in an existing one, file a petition form. Your petition must show the support of at least 30 percent of your fellow employees.

If you have a complaint about a union, contact your nearest NLRB regional office.

The NLRB does not handle complaints or inquiries about certain forms of employment discrimination such as race, sex, issues regarding workplace safety, entitlement to overtime pay, or family and medical leave. Federal and state laws and agencies regulate those forms of employment discrimination. Visit the related agencies section of NLRB website to see which agency can help with your specific complaint.  

Federal and State Government Employees

If you are a federal employee, and have a question or complaint about federal unions, contact the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA), an independent federal agency responsible for the labor-management relations program. It establishes policies and resolves disputes for most federal employees and their managers.

If you and your fellow employees want to be represented by a union, contact a FLRA regional office to see if one already exist at your agency. If one does not exist and you are interested in representation, file a petition form with your closest FLRA regional office.

If you are a state or local government employee and have a question about unions, contact the information officer of the NLRB regional office closest to your job. 

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Minimum Wage and Overtime

The federal minimum wage for covered nonexempt employees is currently $7.25 per hour, effective July 24, 2009. These provisions are contained in the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

Many states also have minimum wage laws. An employee is subject to both state and federal minimum wage laws and is entitled to the higher of the two minimum wages.

The U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division (WHD) is responsible for administering and enforcing some of the nation's most comprehensive labor laws, including: 

If you have questions, contact the Wage and Hour Division by phone at 1-866-4USWAGE (1-866-487-9243).

You may also wish to contact your state department of labor office with questions regarding minimum wage.

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Unsafe Workplace Complaints

Several different federal government agencies handle questions or complaints about workplace issues, depending on the nature of the issue:

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Workers' Compensation

Workers' compensation laws ensure that employees who are injured or disabled on the job receive fixed payments, making lawsuits unnecessary. These laws also provide benefits for dependents of workers who died due to work-related accidents or illnesses. Some laws also protect employers and fellow workers by limiting the amount an injured employee can recover from an employer and by removing the co-workers' liability in most accidents.

Private Sector and State/Local Government Employees

Individuals injured on the job while employed by private companies or state and local government agencies should contact their state workers' compensation program for eligibility, assistance, and filing procedures for workers' compensation benefits.

Federal Employees, Longshoremen, Harbor Workers, and Coal Miners

If you are a federal employee, longshoreman, harbor worker, or coal miner, contact the Office of Workers' Compensation Programs (OWCP) by phone at 1-202-693-0036 (TTY: 1-877-889-5627). OWCP representatives can help you with claim procedures.

Workers' Compensation Appeals

The appeals process for workers' compensation varies from state to state. If you received a denial of benefits and you wish to file an appeal, contact your state workers' compensation office for information on how to file.

You may also wish to contact a licensed attorney.

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Wrongful Discharge/Termination of Employment

Wrongful termination or wrongful discharge laws vary from state to state. Some states are "employment-at-will" states, which means that if there is no employment contract (or collective bargaining agreement) which provides otherwise, an employer can let an employee go for any reason, or no reason, with or without notice, as long as the discharge does not violate a law.

If you feel you have been wrongfully discharged or terminated from employment, you may: 

  • Contact your state department of labor for more information on wrongful termination laws in your state.
  • Seek legal counsel if your employer terminated you for any reason not covered under state or federal law.

You may also be eligible for unemployment compensation.

Employers

If you are an employer seeking information about legal termination of employees, you may wish to contact both the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and your state department of labor to ensure you do not violate any federal or state labor laws. You may wish to consult with a licensed attorney.

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