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Alabama Employment Law Basics

By Lisa Guerin, ​J.D., Boalt Hall at the University of California at Berkeley
Federal and Alabama laws protect your rights at work.

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Are you an employee working in Alabama? Federal and state laws protect your rights on the job, including your right to work free of discrimination, your right to be paid at least the minimum wage, and your right to take leave from work for certain reasons. Below, we cover some of the laws that protect your workplace rights in Alabama.

Laws Prohibiting Discrimination and Harassment

Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from making employment decisions based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), or national origin. Additional federal laws prohibit discrimination based on age (if the employee is at least 40 years old), disability, or genetic information. Employers with at least 15 employees are subject to these laws (for age discrimination, employers with at least 20 employees must comply with the law). Employers may not discriminate in any aspect of employment, from hiring, promotions, pay and benefits to leave, discipline, layoffs, and firing. For detailed information on federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination, see the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s Laws Enforced by the EEOC.

Most states also have their own laws that prohibit discrimination. However, Alabama does not have such laws, nor does it have a state enforcement agency. If you wish to file a discrimination charge in Alabama, you may do so at the EEOC.

The same laws that prohibit discrimination also prohibit harassment. The law defines harassment as unwelcome comments or actions, based on the target’s protected trait, that create a hostile or offensive working environment or that the target must endure as a condition of employment. Sexual harassment is the most familiar type of harassment, but harassment might also be based on age, national origin, and other protected traits.

If you complain about workplace harassment or discrimination, you are protected from retaliation. Your employer may not discipline, fire, or take other negative action against you because you complain within the company, to a government agency (like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission), or in a lawsuit.

Your Right to Time Off Work in Alabama

Many employers offer their employees paid leave, such as vacation time, sick days, holidays, or paid time off (PTO) benefits. In Alabama, these benefits are discretionary. Some states require employers to give employees paid sick days, but neither Alabama nor federal law requires employers to offer paid leave.

However, employers may be required to offer unpaid leave for reasons such as:

  • Military leave. The federal Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) and Alabama law both require employers to allow employees to take leave from work for federal or state military service or duty. Employees must be reinstated after their leave, and may not be discriminated against based on their service.
  • Family and medical leave. The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires employers with at least 50 employees to give eligible employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off per year for illness and caregiving, and sometimes longer. While you are on FMLA leave, your employer must continue your group health benefits. You have the right to be reinstated when your leave is through.
  • Jury duty. Alabama employers must also allow employees to take time off work for jury service.
  • Voting. Alabama employees are entitled to take up to one hour off work, unpaid, to cast their ballots.

Workers’ Compensation and Workplace Safety Laws

In Alabama and all other states, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act requires employers to provide a safe workplace, free of known hazards. Employers must provide safe, healthy working conditions as well as the safety equipment and training required for their industry.

Employees have the right to request an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspection if they believe their employer has committed safety violations. It is illegal for employers to retaliate against employees who complain of unsafe or hazardous working conditions.

If you are injured on the job, you will likely be eligible for workers’ compensation. Most Alabama employers are required to carry workers’ compensation insurance. Workers’ comp provides you with a percentage of your usual earnings, pays for necessary medical treatment, and provides vocational rehabilitation and other benefits.

Wage and Hour Law in Alabama

The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) sets the wage and hour standards employers must follow, including the minimum wage, overtime, and other wage protections. Employers must pay the highest minimum wage applicable to employees, whether set by federal, state, or local law. Alabama doesn’t have a minimum wage law, so employees must be paid at least the federal minimum wage, $7.25 an hour.

If you earn tips as part of your compensation, your employer can pay you a lower minimum wage – as little as $2.13 per hour – as long as you earn enough in tips to bring your total hourly pay up to at least the full minimum wage.

Under the FLSA, Alabama employers must pay employees time and a half if they work more than 40 hours in a week. Not all employees are entitled to earn overtime, however. If you fall within an exception to the overtime laws (for example, because you are a salaried manager as defined by the law), you are an exempt employee, which means you are not eligible for overtime. You can find out more about the FLSA from the Wage and Hour Division of the federal Department of Labor.

After You Leave Your Job

Alabama employees generally work at will. This means they can be fired at any time, for any reason that is not illegal. However, even at-will employees may not be fired for reasons that are discriminatory or retaliatory. You may not be fired, for example, for complaining about illegal discrimination or filing a wage claim for unpaid overtime.

If you are laid off or otherwise lose your job through no fault of your own (for example, you are not fired for serious misconduct and you don’t quit voluntarily), you may qualify for unemployment benefits. Once you start receiving benefits, you will have to search for work to continue receiving them. If you are eligible, you will receive a percentage of your previous earnings for 26 weeks while you are looking for a new job. To learn more (or file a claim online), visit the website of the Alabama Department of Labor.

Under a federal law called the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA), you may have the right to continue your health insurance coverage after your employment ends. However, you will have to pay the full premium (including whatever portion your employer used to pay), plus up to 2% of that amount for administrative costs. You can continue these benefits for 18 to 36 months, depending on your situation.

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If you have questions about your workplace rights, you should speak to an experienced Alabama employment lawyer.

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