Most employees are at-will employees, meaning the employer or employee can terminate the employment relationship at any time, for most any reason. However, there are federal laws that govern that employment relationship and place some restrictions on the employer. It’s important for employers to be aware of these laws and understand the basics of how to comply to ensure they’re not engaging in employment practices that could put their businesses in danger. Below are 7 applicable federal employment laws employers should be familiar with:
- Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act – prohibits discrimination based on race, religion, national origin, or sex. Discrimination may include refusing to hire, demoting, terminating, or taking other adverse action on an employee or potential employee on the basis of a protected classification. In 2012, an employer was required to pay a female employee over $1,000,000 in damages and back pay after it engaged in sexual discrimination in violation of Title VII. The court found that the employer engaged in discrimination when it assigned the employee to a specific customer based on her gender and because the supervisor determined the customer was attracted to her. Hylind v. Xerox Corp., 481 F. App’x 819, 821 (4th Cir. 2012).
- Pregnancy Discrimination Act – protects employees from discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions. In 2002, the 4th Circuit found that an employee was discriminated against on the basis of her pregnancy when her employer terminated her shortly after she returned from a pregnancy related absence. Her former employer was required to pay over $250,000 in damages for the discrimination. Golson v. Green Tree Fin. Servicing Corp., 26 F. App’x 209 (4th Cir. 2002).
- Equal Pay Act – requires employers to pay equal wages to men and women doing the same work. In 2004, the 4th Circuit found that an employer had violated the Equal pay Act when it paid a male employee a higher salary than a female employee for substantially similar work. The female employee was awarded $100,000 for the pay discrimination, as well as $250,000 for gender discrimination under Title VII. Lovell v. BBNT Sols., LLC, 299 F. Supp. 2d 612, 614 (E.D. Va. 2004).
- Americans with Disabilities Act – applies to employers with 20 or more employees and protects employees with disabilities capable of performing the essential functions of a job, with or without a reasonable accommodation, from discrimination. In 2008, the 4th Circuit found that an employer had violated the ADA when it denied reasonable accommodation to a deaf employee. The employee made repeated requests for an interpreter so he was able to understand what was said at employee meetings and filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC when the requests, as well as others, were repeatedly denied. The employer was required to pay the employee over $100,000 in damages for the ADA violation. E.O.C. v. Fed. Express Corp., 513 F.3d 360 (4th Cir. 2008).
- Age Discrimination Employment Act – prohibits discrimination of individuals aged 40 years old or older on the basis of age. In 2007, an employee was awarded $250,000 in back pay after his employer terminated him due to his age. There, the employer told the employee he was being “retired” because they wanted younger managers and made other negative remarks regarding the age of employees. The court determined that the employer violated the statute since the employee’s termination was “motivated by his age.” Loveless v. John’s Ford, Inc., 232 F. App’x 229 (4th Cir. 2007).
- Fair Labor Standards Act – governs minimum wage and whether or not employees need to be paid overtime. Generally, most employees need to be paid overtime, unless they fit into an exception. In 2016, an employer was required to pay employees over $400,000 in damages and attorney fees for violating the FLSA and state law when employees were denied minimum wage and overtime compensation. Jackson v. Egira, LLC, No. CV RDB-14-3114, 2016 WL 5815850, at *1 (D. Md. Oct. 5, 2016), reconsideration denied, CV RDB-14-3114, 2016 WL 6583604 (D. Md. Nov. 4, 2016), and appeal dismissed,No. 16-2292, 2016 WL 10570709 (4th Cir. Dec. 16, 2016).
- Family Medical Leave Act – requires employers with 50 or more employees within a 75 mile radius to give eligible employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job protected leave for the birth or adoption of a child or for serious illness of the employee, spouse, child, or parent. To be eligible, an employee must have worked at least 12 months, and within that 12 month period, at least 1,250 hours. In 2007, the 4th Circuit required an employer to pay over $100,000 in lost wages and attorneys’ fees after a court found the employer interfered with an employee’s rights under the FMLA and denied her requested leave to care for her grandmother. Dillon v. Maryland-Nat’l Capital Park & Planning Comm’n, No. CIV. WGC-04-994, 2007 WL 4557850 (D. Md. Mar. 9, 2007).
These laws can be very complicated and only a basic overview was discussed above. Violations of these laws can lead to severe economic losses for employers. Attorneys at General Counsel PC are specialized in labor and employment law and have the knowledge necessary to help you understand what these laws mean for your business. Our attorneys have experience working with business owners across Virginia, specifically in Fairfax County, Arlington, Loudoun County, and Prince William. For more information about these laws and how you can ensure your business is in compliance with these federal standards, call General Counsel PC at 703-556-0411 today.