Know Your Rights: 5 Federal Laws that Protect Employees

Once upon a time, employees were at the mercy of their employers when it came to benefits and work safety—let alone promotions and hiring.

However, in the 20th century, a movement for employee rights resulted in many of the labor protection laws Americans enjoy today.

Now, around 180 employee protection laws are enforced by the U.S. Department of Labor, from parental leave benefits to pay requirements.

warehouse workers walking and talking

Here are five important federal protections that workers are afforded today. 

If you’re looking for an employment attorney in Portland, Oregon, read here .

1. Workplace Safety

The 1970 Occupational Safety and Health Act laid the vital groundwork for minimizing dangers in the workplace.

This legislation gave rise to several specific safety provisions—including guidelines for agricultural, maritime, and construction jobs that were industry-specific.

This act also contains a “General Duty Clause” that condemns workplace practices that are an obvious danger to employees.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) enforces workplace safety laws; however, state agencies may also implement provisions.

While the protections provided by the act impact the majority of American employees, individuals who work on small family farms or are self-employed are exempted.   

2. Minimum Wage

According to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), American employees must receive at least minimum wage.

Since 2009, public and private employers must pay their employees at least $7.25 per hour—however, some legislators have attempted to increase this amount.

The FLA also ensures that non-exempt workers have a right to receive overtime or time-and-a-half for any additional work hours.

The FLSA also includes protections for minors by limiting the hours children under 16 can work and prohibits employers from hiring children under 18 for high-risk work.

3. Health Coverage

The Affordable Care Act was passed in 2010 and aimed to make health insurance a right for employees at most large and medium-sized organizations.

The act includes The Employer Shared Responsibility Payment provision, which requires organizations with more than 50 full-time employees to offer a minimum amount of health insurance coverage or pay a penalty.

An employee must work an average of at least 30 hours a week to qualify as a full-time employee.

4. Social Security

In 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act into law. The Social Security Act provides a financial safety net for disabled and retired Americans.

As of 2022, around 65.5 million U.S. citizens received social security checks every month, with an average amount of $1,361 for disabled Americans and $1,666 for retirees.

An experienced social security disability lawyer can explain the process of qualifying for it if you’re currently unable to work.

Moreover, they’ll prepare you for a potential hearing if your initial application is rejected.

Social Security benefits are funded by a payroll tax, which may appear as “OASDI” on your pay slip. While both employees and employers contribute 6.2% of the worker’s earnings, self-employed Americans pay the full amount of the tax at 12.4% of their income.

However, half of the amount paid by self-employed individuals is tax-deductible.  

5. Unemployment Benefits

Although each state in America has its own unemployment insurance agency, unemployment benefits are also offered by a federal-state program. Each state manages payments to unemployed individuals; however, federal guidelines dictate how they can do so.

To qualify for unemployment benefits, Americans must be jobless for reasons they cannot control—such as a layoff—and must also meet their state’s specific requirements.

Usually, an unemployed individual can receive unemployment benefits for up to 26 weeks. This period may be extended in times of economic turmoil.