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A Quick Guide To Your Worker Rights In The US

From the beginning of our modern society, the rights of workers have been evolving and improving. People in today’s workforce have many more rights than those of just a few decades ago, and the way workers are treated continues to improve. Here is an overview of some of the basic rights you have in any job you may hold in the United States.

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The Fair Labor Standards Act

In 1938, the Fair Labor Standards Act established a federal minimum wage, ensuring every employee earns a specified amount. Through the years, that wage has been updated and is currently $7.25 per hour except in states that have enacted a higher hourly wage. The act also ensures that anyone working more than 40 hours per week earns time and a half for that extra time over 40 hours. Beyond establishing rates of pay, the Fair Labor Standards Act also protects minors in several ways. It limits the amount of time a child under 16 can work within a week, and it prohibits anyone under 18 from being hired to perform hazardous jobs.


Safety in the Workplace

Workplace safety made great strides in 1970 with the enactment of the Occupational Safety and Health Act. This act included a long list of provisions that regulated safety in the workplace to minimize dangers to workers. It detailed specific regulations for jobs in certain industries, such as construction, maritime work, and the agricultural industry. OSHA or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration oversees workplace safety and updates policies and regulations on a consistent basis. Employers are also required to carry worker’s compensation insurance to cover the damages that employees suffer as a result of workplace accidents. Since this involves dealing with insurance companies, injured workers often benefit from hiring a Seattle L&I attorney who can help them obtain a fair settlement in their claim.


Social Security

Since 1935, the Social Security Administration has been providing benefits to people who are either retired or disabled. The SSA issues cheques to 65 million people, and that number is consistently growing as more people retire or become disabled and incapable of working. The amount an individual can receive will vary based on the type of benefits they’re seeking, their previous income level, and other factors. On average, retirees receive $1,544 per month, while the average disability payment is $1,277 a month. Every working individual contributes to the Social Security fund via payroll taxes, and the current rate at which individuals are taxed is 6.2%. If you’re self-employed, you’re expected to contribute 12.4% each month, but half of those contributions are tax-deductible upon filing your income taxes.


Filing For Unemployment

If you have been working full-time and lose your job through termination or from having been laid off, your U.S. workers rights includes the ability to file for unemployment benefits. This is a federal program, but each state government works jointly with the federal government to provide these benefits. Essentially, the state is responsible for issuing unemployment payments, but they have to abide by federal regulations in doing so. Once you qualify for unemployment benefits, you’ll have to meet certain criteria to continue receiving payments, such as providing proof that you have been looking for a job. You should also be aware that you can only receive unemployment benefits for a period of 26 weeks unless special circumstances result in an extension. For example, unemployment benefits have been extended throughout the recent lockdown periods that resulted from the global pandemic.


Equal Rights

In 1964, the Civil Rights Act made it illegal for an employer to discriminate against employees or job applicants based upon their “race, color, religion, sex, or national origin”. The stipulations in that law were updated in 2009 with the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which extended fair wage protections to women and any minority group. In 2020, the Supreme Court determined that the protections that apply to sex in the original statute implies that people also can’t be discriminated against due to their LGBTQ status. The anti-discrimination laws prohibit employers from declining to hire or promote individuals based on these basic characteristics. Additionally, the anti-discrimination laws prohibit creating a hostile work environment for women or minorities.

This list isn’t exhaustive and your employer may offer other benefits that aren’t necessarily required by law. If you’re unfamiliar with your total range of rights as an employee, visit your employer’s human resources department. They are required to post information about your rights for you to review. If you have further questions, contact your local Department of Labor office.

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