No one is above the law, including your Massachusetts boss. The National Labor Relations Act and a variety of statutes overseen by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission protect employees from hostile work environments, discrimination and unfair labor practices. There are also Massachusetts and local regulations that employers must follow.
Workplace Laws Your Employer May Be Violating
Not all workplace laws apply to every business and employee. For instance, some small businesses may be exempt from certain requirements and managers may not have all the same wage protections as hourly workers. What’s more, state laws can vary.
However, generally, here are eight of the most common ways that employers break labor laws, knowingly or unknowingly.
– Using prohibited questions on job applications.
– Insisting you can’t discuss your salary with your co-workers.
– Failing to pay you overtime.
– Promising jobs to unpaid interns.
– Asking or allowing you to work off the clock.
– Classifying you as an independent contractor, but treating you like an employee.
– Disciplining you for complaining about work on social media.
– Allowing a hostile workplace.
Using Prohibited Questions on Job Applications
Some employers may break the law before you even get hired. The EEOC enforces laws that prohibit a dozen different types of discrimination and, in most cases, employers can’t use those factors in hiring decisions or even ask about them during the interview process. That means a job application can’t ask for your age, marital status, religion or plans to become pregnant, among other things.
Insisting You Can’t Discuss Your Salary With Your Co-Workers
Your boss may not want you and your co-workers to compare your salary or benefits, but they can’t prohibit it. Under the NLRA, any attempt to quash these discussions could be seen as an illegal attempt to prevent workers from organizing or unionizing.
Failing to Pay You Overtime
The Fair Labor Standards Act requires employers to pay nonexempt employees overtime pay when they exceed 40 hours of work in a single workweek. Some states have more restrictive laws on the books.
Promising Jobs to Unpaid Interns
Companies may want to entice interns with the promise of a paying job at the end of the internship. However, doing so could have an employer running afoul of federal and state minimum wage laws. It changes the motivation of the internship. Rather than being a learning experience for a student, the internship could be viewed as an unpaid and illegal training period.
Asking or Allowing You to Work Off the Clock
Nonexempt employees who are covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act can’t be asked to do work off the clock. For instance, workers can’t be required to do prep work or clean up outside their paid shifts. What’s more, employers should be wary of any request to be paid in cash or off the books. The implication is that the employee is not going to be paying taxes. Employers can get in hot water for failing to withhold payroll taxes, and they could also be on the hook for other penalties if the employee files a complaint saying they weren’t properly compensated.
Classifying You as an Independent Contractor, but Treating You Like an Employee
Hiring independent contractors instead of employees is one way businesses can keep costs down. It allows them to avoid paying benefits and some employment taxes. However, businesses may classify workers as independent contractors when they are actually employees. If the employer exercises any control over the person, they are an employee.
Disciplining You for Complaining About Work on Social Media
Under the NLRA, employees are given wide latitude to talk about their employers publicly, including on social media. That’s because trying to curtail worker communications can be seen as an illegal attempt to prevent them from unionizing or organizing. It’s not to say an employee has carte blanche to post whatever they want on social media. Threats of violence, harassing behavior and maliciously false statements could be grounds for discipline or dismissal from a job.
Allowing a Hostile Workplace
An employer has an obligation to ensure its workplace is a safe environment and that worker complaints are handled in an appropriate manner. Some states also require companies provide sexual harassment training to workers or supervisors. Companies may directly or indirectly discourage employees from reporting problems, and many lack a clear code of conduct for their staff.
There are some cases in which a single incident might be severe enough to legally warrant action by an employer. It could be a public humiliation or it could be the groping of a co-worker at a holiday party.
A hostile workplace can extend past business hours as well. Employers have an obligation to address behavior such as a person sending harassing texts or messages to a co-worker in the evening. The key is that the employer must be aware of the behavior, unless it involves a supervisor, in which case, a company can be automatically held responsible for the behavior.
While hostile work environments are often associated with sexual harassment, they can actually be the result of any type of discrimination, and employers need to stress that to their workers.
How to Deal With an Employer Violating the Law
If you are uncomfortable with a co-worker’s behavior or believe your employer is breaking a workplace law, the first step is to contact your supervisor or human resources department. I always encourage employees to work through their employers to see if they can work out any issues internally.
Complaints about discrimination should be filed with the Massachusetts Commision Against Discrimination, alleged violations of the NLRA can be filed with the National Labor Relations Board and wage issues may be addressed by the Masssachusetts Attorney General’s Office and/or by a private attorney.
Another option is to contact a private employment attorney. These lawyers can take civil action against an employer, which could lead to changes in the workplace as well as monetary restitution.
Should you be faced with an employer who has violated the workplace laws in Massachusetts, contact the Law Offices of Renee Lazar at 978-844-4095 to schedule a FREE one hour no obligation consultation.