Street Law: A Course in Practical Law

Chapter 44: Rights and Responsibilities in the Workplace

Chapter Overviews

Looking for a Job  Various federal and state laws protect the rights of workers and people seeking jobs. An employer may not deny any individual a job strictly on the basis of age, race, ethnicity, gender, or disability. Employers may, however, ask about a person's employment history and criminal background and verify that a job applicant is a citizen or has authorization for employment. People between the ages of 12 and 14 may get a work permit for employment in some states, but they can be legally denied employment for legitimate concerns regarding maturity and experience.

Privacy is a controversial issue in the job application process. Some believe that employers should not be able to administer drug, lie detector, personality, or psychological tests because they invade privacy and may be inaccurate. Others believe such tests are reasonable. By law, employers may not use tests that disfavor disabled persons, unless they are testing for skills that are essential to the job. On the job, employees' right to privacy can sometimes clash with an employer's need to supervise, monitor, and evaluate their performance and actions at work.

Conditions on the Job  Federal and state laws have been established to protect both the employee and the employer. The Fair Labor Standards Act requires that most employers pay employees at least the federal minimum wage. While some states set their own minimum wage, employees are entitled to whichever wage is higher—the federal or state minimum. Certain jobs require that employees are compensated for overtime, and specific state laws regulate the weekly hours that a minor may work.

Certain deductions are taken from people's paychecks. Money for federal taxes, state taxes, and Social Security—a federal program that provides workers and their families with monetary benefits if they retire, become disabled, or die—is taken out of each employee's paycheck. Employers may provide fringe benefits, such as health insurance, pension plans, sick leave, and vacation time, to employees for a certain fee or free of charge.

A union is a group of workers that advocates and bargains with an employer for favorable working conditions on behalf of all workers in a particular profession. The Occupational Safety and Health Act(OSHA) sets standards for working conditions and safety regulations that all employers must follow.

Losing a Job  Many factors can contribute to the loss of a job. People who are laid off—released from a job due to the company's financial trouble—may be entitled to extended fringe benefits or continued pay for a certain amount of time while they are looking for a job. Each state has a compensation system to assist the unemployed.

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