Rights for employees are set in place by the federal, state and local governments in order to protect workers from being exploited by their employers. Unfortunately, labor lawyers see all too often that workers either do not know their rights or are afraid to insist upon them. About five years ago, the National Employment Law Project conducted a massive review of workplace practices and found widespread violations of labor laws. And though we can hope that some of these problems have been corrected in recent years, all employees should be aware of these common violations so they can protect themselves against them. Here are five of the top ones, along with what workers ought to know about them:
- Minimum Wage Violations
NELP found that just over a quarter — 26% — of the workers surveyed had been paid less than minimum wage in the week preceding the study. Moreover, 60% of these workers were underpaid by $1 or more each hour. Unless there are special circumstances (such as a tip credit, which allows tipped workers to be paid less than minimum wage in some states), it is illegal to violate the federal or local minimum wage requirement, whichever is higher.
- Overtime Violations
Of the employees who had worked more than 40 hours in the week preceding the survey, more than three-quarters (76%) were not paid the overtime that was legally owed to them. Again, the magnitude by which workers were underpaid was not trivial; the average worker who had not received fair compensation had worked 11 hours of overtime. If employees are not sure whether they are covered by overtime laws, they should consult with labor lawyers. Some workers, such as those in salaried managerial positions, are exempt from overtime laws.
- ‘Off the Clock’ Violations
Close to a quarter of the employees included in the survey had come early or stayed late for their shifts, and 70% of them received no pay at all for this extra work. Determining what counts as a violation in these cases can be tricky (see, for example, recent court decisions regarding Apple and Amazon’s off-the-clock security screenings), but in general, employees should expect to be paid based on when they work, not when their shifts are scheduled.
- Pay Stub and Deduction Violations
Employers are in most cases not allowed to take money out of an employee’s paycheck for damage or loss. However, 41% of workers said they had experienced such actions just in the most recent work week.
- Illegal Retaliation by Employers
NELP found that employees commonly stop reporting violations because they fear losing their jobs, even though it is illegal for employers to fire a worker for such actions. Wrongful dismissal lawyers can help employees who think they have been fired in retaliation for insisting upon legal rights.
Do you think your rights as an employee have been violated in these ways? Can you think of any other common violations labor lawyers can work to publicize? Share your thoughts in the comments.