• Becca Niburg

Know Your Rights in the Workplace!

Every employer in the United States is required to pay fair wages at or above the minimum wage amount to its employees. For most of the country, the minimum wage amount is $7.25 per hour. Students, workers with disabilities, and those working in service professions where tips are required may be paid less. Immigration status, however, does not excuse an employer from paying its employees fairly. In addition, if a worker is paid hourly (with some exceptions such as professional employees, farm workers, and certain seasonal employment), workers are entitled to receive overtime pay at a rate of 1.5 times the normal rate for hours worked over 40 in a 7-day period.

In these Covid-19 times, employers are allowed to take extra precautions against the spread of the disease, such as by mandating that their employees wear masks. Employers can require employees to get a Covid-19 vaccine (when available) and may request Covid-19 tests from its employees if the employees have been sick. For employers that do not normally provide paid sick leave, no change in that policy is mandated even if the employer tells a sick employee to stop work for the day. Employers that do provide sick leave for employees are subject to an increase in coverage due to Covid-19 including for quarantine time upon exposure under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. Even though certain Covid-19 information can be requested, employers are still not allowed to ask for general medical history from employees. For example, an employer could not ask an employee whether they had any risk factor associated with Covid-19 such as high blood pressure or diabetes. The employer can only ask about the specific Covid-19 related test and/or vaccine if that has become part of the employer’s overall procedures. If an employer chooses to implement screening protocols, such as temperature checks at entry, those should be done in a confidential manner to preserve employees’ privacy.

Even if the employer chooses to implement certain Covid-19 protocols, each employee must have the same set of rules to follow. If only non-U.S. citizens, one ethnic or racial group, gender, or other group of people have to follow one set of rules and everyone else follows a different set, the employer may be impermissibly discriminating against its employees and could be subject to government sanctions.

It is important to keep safe in these unprecedented time, both in regards to health but also regarding employment. Employers can consult with an attorney regarding permissible measures to take in its space and employees can consult with an attorney or reach out to the local OSHA office to ask questions or report violations. We are all in this together, so let’s all stay safe together.

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