Are you an employee working in New Mexico? Federal and state laws protect your workplace rights, including your right to work free of discrimination, your right to the minimum wage and overtime pay, and your right to take time off work. This article covers some of the employment laws that protect New Mexico workers.
Discrimination and Harassment Laws In New Mexico
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 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.
New Mexico also prohibits discrimination based on these traits. In addition, New Mexico employers may not discriminate based on an employee’s serious medical condition, use of domestic violence leave, gender identity, sexual orientation, or marital status. Employers with at least four employees must comply with most of these laws. For gender identity and sexual orientation discrimination, employers with 15 or more employees are covered; for marital status discrimination, employers are covered if they have at least 50 employees. These laws are enforced by the Human Rights Bureau of the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions.
Workplace harassment is prohibited under these same laws. Legally, harassment is 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 in order to get or keep a job. Sexual harassment is the most familiar type of harassment, but harassment might also be based on age, disability, 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 the New Mexico Human Rights Bureau), or in a lawsuit.
New Mexico Leave Laws
Many employers offer their employees paid leave, such as vacation time, sick days, holidays, or paid time off (PTO) benefits. In New Mexico, these benefits are discretionary. Some states require employers to give employees paid sick days, but neither New Mexico 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 New Mexico 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. Employees may not be fired without cause for up to one year following their return from 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.
- Domestic violence leave. All New Mexico employers must allow employees to take up to 14 days of unpaid leave per year to handle legal issues relating to domestic violence (against the employee or against the employee’s family member).
- Jury duty. New Mexico employers must also allow employees to take time off work for jury service. Employees may not be forced to use their paid leave for jury duty.
- Voting. New Mexico employees are entitled to take up to two hours off work, with pay, to cast their ballots. Employers are not required to provide this leave if the employee is off work for at least two hours after the polls open or at least three hours before the polls close.
Workers’ Compensation and Workplace Safety Laws
A federal law, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, requires all employers to provide a safe workplace, free of known hazards. Employers must provide safe, healthy working conditions as well as the training and safety equipment employees need to do their jobs safely.
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 New Mexico 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.
New Mexico Wage and Hour Laws
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. New Mexico has set its minimum wage at $7.50 an hour. Because this is higher than the federal minimum wage ($7.25), employees are entitled to be paid the state minimum wage.
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 state minimum wage.
Under the FLSA, New Mexico 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. The New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions enforces the state minimum wage and overtime laws.
Leaving Your Job
New Mexico 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 Unemployment Insurance page of the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions.
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.
Talk to a Lawyer
If you have questions about your workplace rights, you should speak to an experienced New Mexico employment lawyer.