Georgia employees should know about the federal and state laws that protect their rights at work, from laws prohibiting discrimination to laws requiring overtime, unemployment compensation, and more. This article provides basic information about your workplace rights as a Georgia employee.
Georgia Discrimination and Harassment Laws
Under Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, employers may not make job 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), genetic information, or disability. 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 part of the employment relationship, from job listings, interviews, and hiring decisions, to promotions, benefits, compensation, discipline, layoffs, and termination. To learn more about the federal laws that ban employment discrimination, see the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s Laws Enforced by the EEOC.
Georgia also prohibits discrimination based on some of these traits. Georgia does not have its own enforcement agency. If you wish to file a charge of discrimination in Georgia, you can do so at the EEOC.
The same laws the prohibit discrimination also ban harassment. Harassment is unwelcome actions or statements, based on a protected trait (like race or sex), that create a hostile or offensive working environment or that an employee must endure in order to get or keep a job. Sexual harassment is the most familiar type of harassment, but harassment might also be based on disability, ethnicity, or another protected trait.
If you complaint of workplace discrimination or harassment, you are protected from retaliation. It is illegal for your employer to take any negative job action against you, whether you complain within the company, to a government agency (like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission), or in a lawsuit.
Wage and Hour Laws in Georgia
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. In Georgia, the state minimum wage ($5.15 an hour) is lower than the federal minimum wage (currently $7.25 an hour). So, as long as the FLSA applies to you (and it does to most employees, unless you work for a very small and local employer), you are entitled to the federal minimum wage.
Georgia doesn’t have its own overtime laws. Under the FLSA, however, Georgia employers must pay employees overtime -- time and a half – for all hours worked after the first 40 in a week. Some employees are not 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.
Georgia Laws on Workplace Safety and Injuries
In Georgia, as in every other state, 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, including the necessary training and safety equipment 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 suffer an on-the-job injury or illness, you will likely be eligible for workers’ compensation. Most Georgia 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.
Time Off Work in Georgia
Many employers offer their employees paid leave, such as vacation time, sick days, holidays, or paid time off (PTO) benefits. In Georgia, these benefits are discretionary. Some states require employers to give employees paid sick days, but neither Georgia nor federal law requires employers to offer paid leave.
However, employers may be required to offer unpaid leave for reasons such as:
- 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, caregiving, and bonding with a new child. 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. Many states have their own family and medical leave laws, but Georgia is not one of them.
- Military leave. The federal Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) and Georgia law both require employers to allow employees to take leave from work for federal or state military service or duty. In Georgia, employees may also take up to six months off work every four years for service school or annual training. Employees must be reinstated after their leave, and may not be discriminated against because of their military service or status.
- Military family leave. Under the FMLA, eligible employees may take up to 26 weeks off in a single year to care for a family member who was seriously injured on military duty.
- Jury duty. Georgia employers must also allow employees to take time off work for jury service. According to the Georgia Attorney General’s office, employees are entitled to their usual pay while on jury duty.
- Voting. Georgia employees are entitled to take up to two hours of paid time off work to vote, unless their workday begins at least two hours after the polls open or ends at least two hours before the polls close.
Leaving Your Job
Georgia 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 raising concerns about harassment, filing a claim for unpaid wages, or making an OSHA complaint.
Unemployment and Insurance Benefits
If you are out of work through no fault of your own (that is, you didn’t quit voluntarily and you were not fired for serious misconduct), you may be eligible for unemployment benefits. Once you start receiving benefits, you will have to look for work and keep records of your job search. If you are eligible, you will receive a percentage of your previous earnings for 20 weeks while you are looking for a new job. Learn more about eligibility requirements, benefit amounts, job search requirements, and more (or file a claim for benefits online) at the website of the Georgia Department of Labor.
A federal law, the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA), gives employees the right to continue their health insurance coverage after employment ends. To do so, 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.
Talk to a Lawyer
If you have questions about your workplace rights, you should speak to an experienced Georgia employment lawyer.