Wage and Hour Laws
A combination of state and federal laws determine minimum wage, the maximum amount of hours an employee may work in a single shift, collective bargaining rights, overtime laws, and other rules for how employees work and get paid. These are referred to collectively as "wage and hour" laws. Employees who are denied overtime pay or a lunch break, for instance, generally may sue their employer for back wages and other damages.
The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) sets federal standards for a minimum wage, overtime pay, employee record-keeping, and child labor. Some state laws provide additional employee protections, including mandated meal periods and limits on required work hours.
Many U.S. employees receive health care as a benefit through their employer, although it is not a requirement. But once an employer offers such benefits, federal discrimination laws and health care plan regulations apply. For instance, employers that offer health care coverage may not refuse this coverage to individual employees.
Since so many U.S. workers receiving subsidized health benefits through their employers, the federal government enacted the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) to help those after a job loss. The law allows employees to maintain their employer-sponsored health care plan for up to 18 months after termination, at their own expense.
ERISA and Retirement Benefits
The federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) governs how employment benefits -- including health care coverage -- are handled. The main purpose of ERISA is to ensure that retirement funds and other such benefits are managed for the "exclusive benefit" of the participants, not simply to enrich the fund managers. This law also makes the process much more transparent, such as notification requirements for retirement plan changes.
Federal law requires employers to provide their workers unpaid time off for jury duty or to vote in an election, while the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) protects workers who need time off for a family emergency or medical necessity. Under the FMLA, employers may not terminate or otherwise retaliate against an employee who has a valid request for leave.
Other common types of leave include vacation and holidays. Government employers are required to provide employees with a paid day off on legal holidays, but not private sector employers. Also, employers are not required to provide paid vacation time to their employers.
Those are just some of the topics covered in this section. Be sure to speak with an employment law attorney if you have any legal questions about wages and benefits.
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