Labor and Employment Law Basics in Iowa

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Employees are protected by both federal and state employment laws throughout the employment process from hiring to firing. This guide explains the basic laws that protect you as an employee in Iowa.

The Hiring Process

Discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, pregnancy, national origin, age, disability, or genetic information is illegal. Job advertisements, interviews, and application decisions may not reference any of these factors.

Employers may only ask questions directly relevant to the position available. They may not ask about disability, race, sex, national origin, age, or religion, as these are potentially discriminatory and irrelevant in determining an applicant’s qualifications.

Minimum Wage and Overtime Rules

The federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour as of 2012. Employers must pay at least the federal minimum wage and overtime pay of one and one-half times the regular rate of pay. Some states have higher minimum wage laws, but Iowa’s minimum wage is also $7.25 per hour. Overtime pay is for actual hours worked over 40 in a single work week of seven consecutive days; minimum overtime pay in Iowa is $10.88 per hour.

Safe Workplace Conditions

Employees have the right to a safe workplace. Employers must offer working conditions free of known dangers and perform appropriate safety training. Should a complaint arise, employees have the right to request an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) safety inspection. It is illegal for employers to retaliate or discriminate against, or to fire, employees who point out unsafe conditions.

Workers' Compensation Program

Worker’s Compensation is a disability compensation program. The goal is to pay workers who are injured at work or acquire an occupational disease with total weekly compensation not to exceed 80 percent of the employee’s weekly spendable earnings; all reasonable and necessary medical treatment; vocational rehabilitation; and other benefits.

Iowa’s Workers' Compensation Board covers almost all private and government employees, including minors, non-citizens, and part-time employees, regardless of occupation, business size, duration of employment, or number of hours worked per day.

Paid Time Off

Iowa employers are not required to pay employees for sick days, vacation time, or holidays. Employers may follow their own time-off programs, but federal law such as the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), requires certain employers to give up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off per year, and sometimes longer. You have the right to be reinstated after FMLA leave with the same or equal position. Iowa allows time off to vote with a written request made a day in advance.

Harassment Regulations

Harassment is illegal under federal law and includes, but is not limited to, sexual harassment. Harassment is any unwelcome conduct related to race, color, religion, sex, pregnancy, national origin, age, disability, or genetic information. The offensive conduct must be a condition of continued employment or create a hostile, intimidating, or abusive work environment.

Termination Rights

Iowa is an “employment-at-will” state. This gives employers and employees the right to terminate employment at will at any time without giving reasons.

Employers may not fire an employee for an illegal reason, including retaliation, discrimination, refusal to take a lie detector test, alien status, OSHA complaint, or violation of public policy such as refusal to break the law, complaints about law breaking, or exercising a legal right.

Employers must give departing employees their final paychecks on the next scheduled payday. Unused vacation pay is not required unless contractually agreed upon.

After-Employment Benefits

The Department of Labor's Unemployment Insurance program offers unemployment benefits to eligible workers who become unemployed through no fault of their own. Benefits are equal to a percentage of earnings for a maximum of 26 weeks, unless extended. You must actively pursue work while receiving benefits.

Federal COBRA provides the right to temporary continuation of your employer's health coverage at group rates for 18 months for all eligible former employees, retirees, spouses, former spouses, and dependent children. This coverage is only available when employment is lost due to voluntary and involuntary termination, not gross misconduct. Companies employing under 20 employees are usually excluded.

Employment Lawyers Can Help

Employment law is complicated. Anyone with questions about workers rights should speak with an Iowa employment lawyer.

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