Employment laws help define a legal framework for the employment relationship between employers and employees. Employment laws protect employees at all stages of the employment relationship, from hiring to post-termination. Here are some important things for an employee in Oklahoma to know about employment law.
Federal law does not allow employers to discriminate against potential employees on the basis of gender, race, color, religion, national origin, age, disability or status as a protected veteran. An employer may not ask a prospective employee any questions relating to marital status, religion, gender, race, color, national origin, age or disability in the course of an employment interview. Examples of prohibited questions would be:
- Are you married?
- When did you graduate from high school?
- What country are you originally from?
- Where do you go to church?
Employers who base hiring decisions on any of these improper, discriminatory factors risk subjecting themselves to potential liability for employment discrimination.
Minimum Wage and Overtime
The federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour applies to covered, nonexempt employees. Employees working for businesses with more than $500,000 in annual gross sales and employees of smaller businesses engaged in interstate commerce are covered by the federal minimum wage. Many employees are exempt from the protection of the federal minimum wage. The most common exemption is for executive, administrative, professional and outside sales employees. Additionally, the federal minimum wage does not apply to workers who receive tips as long as their combined wages and tips are at least equal to the federal minimum wage.
Additionally, federal law also requires employers to compensate all covered, nonexempt employees for overtime work in excess of 40 hours per week at the rate of one and one-half times the employee's usual rate of pay. Significant exemptions to the overtime pay requirement include executive, administrative, professional, outside sales employees and commissioned sales employees.
In addition to the federal minimum wage and overtime laws, states may also enact their own minimum wage laws, which may provide employees with greater benefits than federal law. Oklahoma has a minimum wage law that requires employers with gross sales more than $100,000 or 10 or more workers in a single location to pay a minimum wage equal to the federal minimum wage.
Employers are required to provide employees with a safe work environment under the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA). OSHA covers almost all persons in the workplace, with the exception of independent contractors. Workers with a workplace safety complaint may file a complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Employers may not discriminate in any way against workers making safety complaints.
Workers' compensation is a required insurance program that provides insurance benefits for workers injured on the job. Workers' compensation benefits pay the worker's medical bills and compensate the worker for a portion of the worker's lost wages. All employers are required to provide workers' compensation coverage, with some limited exceptions.
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires employers to give covered employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for covered events. FMLA applies to all government employers and to all private employers with 50 or more employees.
Oklahoma law requires employers to give employees who are registered to vote up to two hours of paid time off to vote. Employers are not required to give employees paid time off to vote if the employee's shift begins more than three hours after the polls open or ends more than three hours before the polls close.
Federal law prohibits all employee harassment. Harassment is any unwelcome conduct on the basis of gender, age, race or color, religion, national origin or disability. In order to constitute illegal harassment, the unwelcome conduct must either be a condition to continued employment or be so severe and continuous as to create a work environment that a reasonable person would find abusive or intimidating. The victim does not have to be the target the of the unwelcome conduct; it is enough to prove a violation if the victim is offended by the harassing behavior. A harassment victim may file a complaint against the employer and in some circumstances may sue the employer for monetary damages.
Termination of Employment
Oklahoma is an at-will employment state, which means that either the employer or the employee can terminate the employment relationship for any reason at any time. A major exception to the employment at-will relationship exists when an employment contract exists between the parties that limits the employer's ability to terminate the employment relationship at will. Additionally, employers may not fire an employee for an illegal reason. Examples of illegal reasons for firing an employee include employment discrimination, such as age, race, or gender discrimination, and retaliation for filing an employment related complaint against the employer, such as workers' compensation, unsafe work environment, or employment discrimination.
Oklahoma law requires that an employer deliver the final paycheck to a terminated employee on or before the next scheduled pay date. The final paycheck must include the amount of any accrued vacation time if the employee is entitled to compensation for unused vacation under the employer's established policies.
If an employee's employment is terminated by the employer, then the employee may be eligible to receive unemployment compensation benefits. To be eligible for unemployment benefits, the employee must be unemployed through no fault of his own, be able and willing to work, seek full-time employment and file a claim for benefits. Additionally, former employees may be entitled to continuation of their health insurance at the employee's expense under COBRA. COBRA applies only to employers with 20 or more employees.
Contacting an Employment and Labor Attorney
Employment laws are complex and employees with questions about their employment situation should talk with a Oklahoma labor lawyer.