Examples of Employee Workplace Violations

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Employees and job seekers often have questions about overtime, unused vacation timecomp time, wages, and other employee rights issues. Employment law can be confusing, and it can be difficult to learn what your rights are and what you are entitled to.

Because employment law is so complicated, employees often don’t even know what their rights are regarding vacation, comp time, commissions, and more.

In fact, some employees don’t even know when an employer is violating a workplace law.

Below is a list of the top ten workplace violations that employees should be aware of. Read this list of violations to make sure you know your rights, and to ensure that you are being compensated fairly.

Top Workplace Violations

Jim Sokolove, Founder, Sokolove Law, shares information on what employees should be aware of regarding their rights as employees.

Unpaid Compensable Time

When your duties include putting on or taking off a uniform or personal protective equipment, performing a stock inventory, setting up and cleaning your work area, or attending a change-of-shift-meeting, you're entitled to your regular wages for the time you are engaged in those activities.

You're also entitled to compensation for any "extra" hours you work, such as working through your lunch break, even if your employer didn't require you to work the extra time.

These are all considered compensable time. Your employer is legally required to pay you for all compensable time.

Unpaid Vacation Time

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not require employers to pay employees for vacation time. However, if the employer does provide paid vacation, the time accrued (collected) becomes part of the employee's compensation.

If you are fired or you quit, and you have vacation time accrued, you are entitled to payment for that time, as per company policy.

"Use It or Lose It" Vacation Time

Some employers who provide vacation time adopt a "use it or lose it" policy, where they require employees who don't use their accumulated vacation by the end of the year to lose it. Use-it-or-lose-it policies are illegal in some states, including California, Montana, and Nebraska. Other states require employers to give their staff reasonable opportunity to use their vacation time before losing it.

Unpaid Commission or Bonus

Your compensation may include commissions or bonuses based on performance benchmarks, such as production or sales quotas. Bonuses and commissions are not regulated by the FLSA. Whether or not you're entitled to bonuses or commissions is determined by your agreement with your employer and the laws of the state where you work.

However, if you have been promised a bonus or commission for achieving certain benchmarks, and you have achieved those, you are entitled to receive the commission or bonus promised by your employer. If your employer does not give you a promised bonus or commission, he or she is violating employment law.

Misclassification of Employees as Exempt Workers

Confusion about exemption rules is common among both employers and employees. Despite what many people think, exemptions have nothing to do with your title or job description. Whether you receive a salary rather than an hourly wage is not necessarily enough to determine your status either.

Be aware of your salary level and job duties, as they are the determining factors for your classification. Knowing whether or not you are exempt is important, because exempt employees are not entitled to receive overtime pay as guaranteed by the FLSA.

Misclassification of Employees as Independent Contractors

Independent contractors, by definition, are self-employed workers who are not covered by the tax and wage laws that apply to employees. This is because employers do not pay Social Security, Medicare or federal unemployment insurance taxes on independent contractors.

If you are not an independent contractor, make sure your employer isn't classifying you as one. Independent contractors are not eligible for certain benefits such as medical, dental, and unemployment benefits.

Unpaid or Improperly Calculated Overtime Pay

Under the FLSA, overtime pay rules are based on a 40-hour workweek. The FLSA states that all work over 40 hours in a workweek must be paid at a rate of one and one-half times the employee's regular hourly rate. Non-exempt employees may be paid on a weekly, bi-weekly, semi-monthly, or monthly basis, but overtime is always calculated by the Monday through Friday workweek.

Make sure you're keeping track of your hours worked, and make sure that you are receiving properly calculated overtime pay.

Comp Time Instead of Overtime Pay

Compensatory time, commonly referred to as "comp time," is generally paid time off granted instead of overtime wages. For example, rather than paying employees time-and-a-half for overtime during a busy season, a business may offer comp time to be taken at a later date. While comp time may be legal depending on the classification of the employee, it must always be paid at the same rate as overtime wages: 150%.

According to the FLSA, private employers can only give comp time if it is in the same pay period as the overtime work. There are also differences between comp time for exempt and non-exempt employees. Non-exempt employees must be paid overtime. Giving non-exempt employees comp time is a violation of employment law. Make sure you are receiving proper compensation for overtime work.

False Reporting

Many employers establish rules that overtime work will not be permitted or paid without prior authorization. Some choose to "look the other way" when non-exempt employees work overtime and don't allow those hours to be reported. These policies don't comply with the FLSA. Employees must report their overtime hours.

Minimum Wage Violations

As of July 24, 2009, the federal minimum wage for most covered employees is $7.25 per hour. Some exceptions include certain student workers and certain disabled workers, who may be paid at a lower rate.

The minimum wage for young workers under the age of 20 is $4.25 per hour during their first 90 days of employment only (consecutive calendar days, not days of employment). This applies to every job a person has until he or she turns 20. It does not just apply to his or her first job.

Workers who receive tips on the job may be paid a minimum hourly rate of $2.13, as long as the hourly rate plus tips received totals at least $7.25. Make sure you are receiving the proper minimum wage (at least) based on these requirements.

Whistleblowing

A whistleblower is someone who complains about illegal activity or activity in violation of company policy at an employer. A whistleblower can be an employee, supplier, client, contractor, or anyone who may have insight into any illegal activity occurring at a business or organization. Those complaints are often voiced in public or reported to government or law enforcement agencies.

Whistleblowers have often been fired by the company they work for. Whistleblowers that do retain their jobs may face blacklisting, demotions, overtime exemptions, benefit denial, threats, reassignment, or a reduction in pay.

The Whistleblower Protection Act provides legal protection for federal employees in addition to the protective laws created by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

More Information on Workplace Violations

If you think your employer is committing a workplace violation, your first step is to get as much information as you can. Check out the elaws Advisors – these are interactive tools provided by the US Department of Labor. These can give you more information about a number of federal employment laws.