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10 Employment Laws Every Person Needs to Know

Want to protect yourself in the workplace? Make sure that you know these crucial employment laws every person should know.

Back when I was 26, I worked for a person who was a total pig.

He made a point of telling me that I would not be able to get a raise unless I lost weight... for an office job. He would regularly berate women for being not "hot enough" and make seriously derogatory remarks towards anyone who was female. To him, women and non-binary individuals like myself weren't people; they were accessories that propped up his fragile ego.

While working for this individual, he'd regularly threaten to withhold paychecks and make remarks about makeup. Working for him was hell, and even though I was desperate for cash, I only lasted three months before I quit.

Looking back, he broke a slew of employment laws and I probably should have been sued. Had I known this at the time, I probably would have pursued legal action against him and won majorly in court. I really wish I had sued him.

From what I saw, most people have experienced a hostile workplace at least once in their lives. That's why it makes sense to know the law, and know when to contact an attorney. These ten laws are the most important ones on this list, so you might want to learn about them first.

Employers can't discriminate on race, religion, gender, sexual preference, or any other protected class.

This is one of the most important federal laws you can know. If you have proof of an employer making discriminatory remarks based on a trait that is considered to be protected by law, you can definitely seek legal recourse.

Generally speaking, you should take a look to find out what state laws cover as a protected class. Not all states are equal when it comes to this statute, and that means that, at times, companies can discriminate against disabled people or other classes with less recourses.

Employers can't ask you if you plan to have kids as part of the hiring process.

Federal laws bar hiring employers for asking questions dealing with family matters—including whether you are married, about to have kids, or currently have kids. Family questions are a major no-no, and are actually grounds for a lawsuit.

That being said, some employers are known to skirt around the law by trying to find out what people's cars look like, or to gain clues from their backgrounds.

Employers can't pay less then your state's minimum wage.

Have you been recently offered a job at $7 per hour? If so, that's illegal.

One of the laws you need to be aware of is the $7.25 minimum wage law. Around 60 percent of all states have a minimum wage that's higher than that, with some going as high as $12 per hour.

The only industry that seems to be immune to the minimum wage law is the restaurant industry, and that's only if tips are added to the person's wages. If you don't get tipped at your job, you cannot be paid less than minimum wage.

If you have a kid or an ailing parent, you're allowed to take up to 12 weeks off, as long as you're salaried.

This is part of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and it's what allows qualified expecting moms to spend the first couple of weeks with their kids if they are salaried. Make sure that you take a look at the fine print of this law to find out if your situation is qualified for family leave.

When your take leave according to the FMLA, you can expect your job and your health insurance to be intact when you come back. It's a huge amount of stability to have in uncertain times—and that's why paid family leave is so needed.

You have a right to a workplace that is physically safe.

Workers are already doing a lot to help keep a business profitable, and in many industries, that's seriously risky work. That's why the United States passed the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) in 1970.

OSHA is a series of laws and codes that are designed to keep workers safe while they're on the job. This includes mandating the use of safe tools, proper workplace protocols, and even offering things like Worker's Compensation to employees who are injured.

If you faced a workplace injury or were exposed to a toxic chemical while on the job, you have every right to talk to a lawyer. It's likely that your employer violated a safety standard and may be liable for damages.

If you work more than 40 hours a week, you are entitled to overtime.

Don't have salary? Stuck on an hourly wage? Employment laws actually still protect you from being too heavily taken advantage of by an employer, you know.

For employees that aren't placed on a salary, any hours over 40 hours per week are supposed to be paid as overtime. Overtime is defined as one and a half times the wage you'd typically earn.

By the way, are you really an independent contractor?

Back during the Great Recession, a lot of employers took advantage of people who were desperate for a job. They did this by offering jobs to these people as "independent contractors" at a lower or similar rate that they'd offer a salaried individual.

The problem is that they would also do things that were illegal by IRS tax laws and by federal laws. If you are an independent contractor, your clients cannot designate your work hours, ask you to wear a uniform, or otherwise treat you like an employee.

When employers do this, it's technically a form of cheating on taxes.

Depending on where you live, you may also want to find out what constitutes as a hostile workplace.

Have you been threatened by a boss, belittled by them, or otherwise left with serious emotional harm due to the actions of people around you? Quite a few employment laws deal with the topic of a "hostile work environment."

Depending on where you live, this term will have different meanings. If you feel like you've been bullied at work, chances are it won't be a hostile workplace. On the other hand, if your boss doesn't care about workplace health and safety in the least bit, you might be able to sue.

Your employers can't use your medical history against you.

You know those medical papers you sign when you are at the hospital? Those HIPAA papers? Yep, those are actually a cornerstone of one of the most important laws on the books, especially if you struggle with mental illness or a chronic condition.

HIPAA states that employers cannot discriminate on you based on your medical information, and that they can't ask your doctor to share medical information with them at any point.

If you want to join a union, your employer cannot prevent you from doing so.

Unions are excellent way to protect against shady employers doing shady things, and there are employment laws that protect employers from wrecking unions. The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) states that companies can't penalize or force people to avoid joining unions. 

That being said, certain companies are known for laying off entire fleets once word gets out that they may want to join a union. So while enforcement of this is a legal grey area, having this law on papers still means a lot to people who want to join together for workers' rights.

Cato Conroy
Cato Conroy

Cato Conroy is a Manhattan-based writer who yearns for a better world. He loves to write about politics, news reports, and interesting innovations that will impact the way we live.

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