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.

Following the information on how to request a federal background check, you'll find information on 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.

Questions or Reporting a Violation of the FMLA

If you have unanswered questions about the FMLA or you believe someone has violated your rights under FMLA, visit the Wage and Hour Division website or contact them for assistance. Have this information available when filing a complaint. 

Employer Information

Employers covered by the FMLA have specific rights and responsibilities under the law. Here is how types of employers may be covered by the FMLA:

If you are an employer with concerns about false FMLA leave, contact the Wages and Hours Division 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 which 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 guidelines
  • 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 exists 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: 

New Rule Expands Overtime Pay

In May 2016, the Department of Labor finalized a rule to update overtime protections.  The rule, which takes effect on December 1, 2016, doubles the salary level—from $23,660 to $47,476 per year—under which most salaried workers are guaranteed overtime. There are several resources available to help you understand this new law, including:

The Wage and Hour Division also compiled a list of popular and frequently asked questions regarding the final overtime rule.

If you have questions, contact the WHD via email, fax, or phone.

You may also wish to contact your State Labor Office with questions regarding minimum wage.

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Unsafe Workplace Complaints and Conditions

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

Workers’ Rights

As an employed worker, you’re entitled to certain rights in the workplace - especially ones that keep you safe. These include the right to:

  • Be trained in a language that you understand
  • Be provided with the necessary safety equipment
  • Report injury or illness
  • Voice your concern over unsafe working conditions without fear of retaliation

In order to improve safety in the workplace, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) updated its existing rules regarding how employers must report injury or illness in the workplace.

Effective Jan. 1, 2017, certain employers will be required to electronically submit injury or illness data. Doing this will allow OSHA to improve enforcement of workplace safety requirements and provide valuable information online for workers, job seekers, customers, and the general public.

The new rule also prohibits employers from discouraging their workers from reporting an injury or illness. This rule is effective August 10, 2016.

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Workers' Compensation

Workers' compensation laws:

  • ensure that employees who are injured or disabled on the job receive fixed payments.
  • provide benefits for dependents of workers who died due to work-related accidents or illnesses.
  • 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 appropriate Office of Workers' Compensation Programs (OWCP) that applies to you. 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 Labor Office 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 Labor Office 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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Youth Labor Laws

Types of Work, Hours, and Pay

If you are under 18 and want to get a job it is important to know what rights and restrictions you have as a worker. Youth labor laws are designed to protect you from unsafe and inappropriate work experiences and to ensure that your job doesn’t interfere with your schooling.  These laws establish:

  • What types of work you’re allowed to do
  • When you’re allowed to work
  • How many hours per week you’re allowed to work
  • How much you should be paid

The Department of Labor’s Youth Rules website helps you:

  • Know the Rules: Select your age and learn what work you’re allowed to do and when you’re allowed to work.  
  • Find Support: Learn about other agencies that can help you and learn how to file a complaint.

It also helps employers, parents and educators stay informed.

Youth Rules also has a Law Library, which includes both federal and state laws.  Rules vary depending on your age and the state you live in. When federal and state rules are different, the rules that provide the most protection apply.

Safety and Health

Employers must follow all Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) standards to keep you from being injured at work. In addition to following the federal and state rules on youth labor, employers must:

  • Provide a hazard-free workplace
  • Provide training on potential workplace hazards
  • Provide you with resources to answer your questions on safety or health in the workplace
  • Tell you what to do if you get hurt on the job  

OSHA provides resources for young workers, including information on how to protect yourself in restaurant, agricultural, construction, and landscaping jobs.

You can find statistics and other details on job-related hazards and injuries at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Young Worker site.

Equal Employment Opportunities

Youth@Work, a division of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC),  will help you:

  • Learn your rights as a young worker
  • Identify workplace discrimination
  • Learn what laws are enforced by the EEOC
  • File a complaint if you suspect workplace discrimination

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