Are you a Louisiana employee? If so, you should be aware of your rights at work. State and federal laws prohibit discrimination, require payment of minimum wage, and give you the right to take leave from work, among other things. You are protected in every part of the employment relationship, from interviews and hiring to pay, benefits, performance evaluation, discipline, layoffs, and termination.
This article provides some basic information on your rights as an employee in Louisiana.
Discrimination and Harassment Laws in Louisiana
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.
Louisiana law prohibits discrimination based on most of these characteristics, as well as sickle cell trait. Louisiana’s discrimination law applies to employers with at least 20 employees. The Louisiana Commission on Human Rights enforces the state antidiscrimination law.
Workplace harassment is also illegal under these same laws. Harassment is defined as unwelcome actions or statements, based on a protected trait (such as disability or race), that create a hostile or offensive working environment or that an employee must endure in order to get or keep a job. For example, if an employee has to go out on dates with her supervisor as a condition of promotion or has to put up with a constant barrage of sexual banter, jokes, and images at work, that would be harassment. Sexual harassment is the most familiar type of harassment, but harassment might also be based on age, ethnicity, or another protected trait.
If you complain 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 the EEOC or the Louisiana Commission on Human Rights, or in a lawsuit.
Louisiana Laws on Workplace Safety and Injuries
In every state, including Louisiana, 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 dangerous or hazardous working conditions.
Most Louisiana employers are required to carry workers’ compensation insurance, which covers employees who suffer an on-the-job injury or illness. Workers’ comp pays you a percentage of your usual earnings while you are unable to work, pays for necessary medical treatment, and provides vocational rehabilitation and other benefits.
Wage and Hour Law In Louisiana
The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) sets the pay standards employers must follow, including the minimum wage, overtime pay, and other wage and hour rules. Employers must pay the highest minimum wage applicable to employees, whether set by federal, state, or local law. Louisiana does not have a minimum wage, so Louisiana employees are entitled to be paid at least the federal minimum wage, $7.25 an hour.
If you earn tips, your employer can pay you a lower hourly minimum wage, as long as your wage plus your tips add up to at least the full minimum wage per hour. Louisiana employers may pay tipped employees as little as $2.13 an hour, as long as they make enough in tips to reach the regular minimum wage rate.
Louisiana also has no overtime law. However, Louisiana employees are protected by federal law, which requires employers to 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.
Time Off From Work in Louisiana
Many employers offer their employees paid leave, such as vacation time, sick days, holidays, or paid time off (PTO) benefits. In Louisiana, these benefits are discretionary. Some states require employers to give employees paid sick days, but neither Louisiana 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. Louisiana law also gives employees the right to time off for disability relating to pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions. Employers with at least 25 employees must let employees take up to six weeks off for normal pregnancy and childbirth and up to four months off for more disabling pregnancies.
- School activities leave. All Louisiana employers must give employees at least 16 hours of unpaid time off per year to participate in or observe a child’s school activities and conferences, if they can’t be rescheduled to a time outside of work hours.
- Military leave. The federal Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) requires employers to allow employees to take leave from work for federal or state military service or duty. Employees must be reinstated when their military leave is through. Louisiana law extends similar rights to employees who are called to active state duty or training.
- 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. Louisiana employers must also allow employees to take time off work for jury service. Employers must pay for one day of jury duty for regular employees.
Leaving Your Job in Louisiana
Louisiana employees generally work at will. This means they may quit at any time, for any reason, and 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 discrimination, filing a wage claim against your employer, 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 your job voluntarily and you were not fired for serious misconduct), you may be eligible for unemployment benefits. To qualify, you must have earned at least $1,200 in a one-year period prior to losing your job, among other things. If you are eligible, you will receive a percentage of your previous earnings (up to a maximum of $247 per week) for 26 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 Louisiana Workforce Commission.
If you have group health benefits through your employer, you may have the right to continue your coverage after you leave your job (whether you quit or are laid off or fired). These rights are provided by a federal law called the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, or COBRA. You will have to pay the full premium (including any portion your employer used to pay as an employment benefit), plus up to 2% of that amount for administrative costs. You can continue your benefits for up to 18 months; your spouse and other dependents may continue their benefits for 18 to 36 months, depending on the circumstances.
Talk to a Lawyer
As you can see, a variety of state and federal laws protect employees in Louisiana. If you believe your employer has violated your legal rights, you should speak to an experienced Louisiana employment lawyer. A lawyer can help you figure out whether you have legal claims against your employer and, if so, how best to pursue them.