Employee Rights Laws Part 2: Overview of Other Federal “Wrongful Termination” Employment Laws

Employee Rights Laws Part 2: Overview of Other Federal “Wrongful Termination” Employment Laws

In most states, including New York and New Jersey, unless you have a written employment contract, are a member of a labor union, or are a civil service employee, you are probably an employee at will. Employment at will is the general principal that your company can fire you for any reason, or even for no reason at all. It also means you can quit your job for any reason.

Fortunately, federal, state, and local laws create many exceptions to employment at will that give employees significant protection from an unfair or arbitrary termination. This, the second part of a four part series, discusses many other important federal wrongful termination” laws. The first part of the series discusses some of the most important federal anti-discrimination laws. Part three addresses some of the most important exceptions to employment at will under New Jersey law. Part four reviews employee rights laws under New York State and New York City law.

Overview of Other Federal Employment Laws

The following is an overview of some of the most important federal employment statutes other than anti-discrimination laws. This is not intended to be a comprehensive list of all such laws. It is also important to understand that not every federal employment law applies to every employee. If you believe your employment law rights have been violated, it is recommended that you contact a knowledgeable, dedicated and experienced employment lawyer.

Civil Rights Act of 1881 (Section 1983)

  • Provides a remedy for an individual if someone acting on behalf of the state or local government has violated their civil rights under the United States Constitution.
  • Protects constitutional rights including the right to freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of religion, freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, due process of law, and equal protection of law.
  • Prohibits individuals action on behalf of a state from discriminating on the basis of race, gender, religion, and disability status, including prohibiting employment discrimination and harassment.

Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Actof 1985 (COBRA)

  • Entitles covered employees and their families to continue health coverage for a period after certain qualifying events, such as when the employee loses his or her job. Ordinarily, the period of continued coverage is up to 18 months. Health insurance continuation coverage under COBRA is at the employee’s cost.

Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA)

  • Sets minimum standards for most private employer’s pension and health insurance plans.
  • Requires employers to provide certain information regarding the features and funding of certain pension and health insurance plans.
  • Requires a grievance and appeal process for certain employee benefit plans.

Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA)

  • Requires companies to pay most non-exempt employees time and a half for each overtime hour, meaning more than 40 hours worked in a week.
  • Sets a minimum wage for most jobs. As of July 24, 2008, the federal minimum wage is $6.55 per hour. The federal minimum wage will increase to $7.25 per hour on July 24, 2009. Many states, including both New York and New Jersey, have established minimum wages that are higher than the minimum required by the FLSA.

Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA)

  • Entitles qualified employees to take up to a total of 12 weeks off per 12 month period for:

    1. his or her own serious health condition,
    2. the serious health condition of a member of the employee’s immediate family (meaning a spouse, child or parent),
    3. the birth of the employee’s client, or the placement of a child through adoption or foster care, or
    4. caring for a child who is less than one year old.
  • Protects employees who take FMLA leaves, by entitling them to return their jobs, or an equivalent position, at the end of their leaves.
  • Makes it illegal for an employer to retaliate against an employee who took an FMLA leave, or to otherwise interfere with an employee’s rights under the FMLA.

Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA)

  • Provides protection for employees who have preexisting medical conditions.
  • Prohibits employers from discriminating against employees and other covered dependents based on their health status.

Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002

  • Prohibits brokers and dealers involved in investment banking from retaliating against securities analyst employees whose research reports make adverse, negative, or unfavorable conclusions about the company.
  • Provides whistleblower protection to employees of publicly traded companies by prohibiting retaliation, discrimination and harassment against:
    1. Employees who assist with certain investigations into violations of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) rules and regulations, or other federal laws relating to fraud against shareholder; and
    2. Employees who file, testify, or otherwise participate in a proceeding alleging a violation of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, SEC rules and regulations, or other federal laws relating to fraud against shareholders.

The employment lawyers at the law firm of Rabner Baumgart Ben-Asher & Nirenberg, are experienced at representing employees in New York and New Jersey whose federal employment law rights have been violated.

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7 responses to “Employee Rights Laws Part 2: Overview of Other Federal “Wrongful Termination” Employment Laws”

  1. judy says:

    my work place wants me to fill out a fmla form. i signed up for sick leave bank. will this effect my pay from sick bank? or will i have to be off for 12 weeks without pay and not be able to pay my insurance

  2. Judy, for a lot of reasons I can’t give you personal legal advice online, but I will note that there is a United States Department of Labor regulation interpreting the FMLA which states that: “Substitution of paid accrued vacation, personal, or medical/sick leave may be made for any (otherwise) unpaid FMLA leave needed to care for a family member or the employee’s own serious health condition. Substitution of paid sick/medical leave may be elected to the extent the circumstances meet the employer’s usual requirements for the use of sick/medical leave.” You can view the rest of that regulation here, on the Department of Labor’s website: http://www.dol.gov/dol/allcfr/ESA/Title_29/Part_825/29CFR825.207.htm.However, I should caution that interpretations of the FMLA might vary somewhat in some states, and that most FMLA rights are very fact specific. As a result, if your company does not allow you to use your sick leave to pay for your FMLA leave, you should consider contact an experienced employment lawyer in your state. If you work in New York or New Jersey, feel free to contact me. My contact information is available at my law firm’s webpage: http://www.njemploymentlawfirm.com.Thank you, and good luck with your FMLA leave!

  3. Cheryl Lynn Catoe says:

    I was illegally terminated from a federal job. This is an SOS I AM TRYING TO FIND A LAWYER AND I HAVE NO MONEY TO OFFERf!

  4. Charles Cobb says:

    What are the basic requirements in NJ regarding payment of salary and commissions upon an either “constructive Discharge” or, “Termination wo/cause”? Are two weeks pay and all back commissions mandatory? What are the minimum obligations of my employer to pay as far as final paycheck and back commissions?Please advise and thanks in advance.

  5. Charles, the short answer is that unless you have a legal claim (such as if you were fired or constructively discharged because of your age, race, disability, or for another unlawful reason) all that a company in New Jersey has to pay you is what you have earned. It definitely includes salary for the period you worked, and depending on the company and the circumstances it might include severance pay, commissions, a bonus (or a pro-rated portion of a bonus), the value of your unused vacation and/or sick time, or other benefits. At some companies those additional items are addressed in the employee handbook or in employee’s offer letters/individual employment contracts.If you would like to discuss your individual situation further, please feel free to contact my law firm at (973) 781-104 or email me at JNirenberg@njemploymentlawfirm.com.

  6. Debi says:

    Is it unlawful to terminate an employee without prior warning and is it unlawful to terminate an employee over the phone?

  7. Debi,While it is certainly not the nicest or most professional way to handle things, in New York and New Jersey there is nothing that makes it unlawful to fire someone without warning or over the phone. However, depending on the circumstances, that type of behavior could (and I stress the word “could”) be indicative of discrimination, retalaition, or something else unlawful.