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Agencies Enforcing Federal Laws
Protecting Your Rights
A good source of information regarding federal laws that protect workers is the following list of federal agencies charged with the enforcement of those laws. In some cases, you can pursue resolution through these agencies instead of filing a lawsuit, and in some cases, you are required to file an administrative claim before proceeding to court.
EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY COMMISSION
Before filing a lawsuit based on discrimination, you are required in most circumstances to file a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or an employee because of the person’s race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation), national origin, age (40 or older), disability, or genetic information. It is also illegal to retaliate against a person because the person complained about discrimination, filed a charge of discrimination, or participated in an employment discrimination investigation or lawsuit.
These laws include:
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) makes it illegal to discriminate against someone on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or sex. The law also requires that employers reasonably accommodate applicants’ and employees’ sincerely held religious practices, unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the operation of the employer’s business.
- The Pregnancy Discrimination Act amended Title VII to make it illegal to discriminate against a woman because of pregnancy, childbirth, or a medical condition related to pregnancy or childbirth.
- The Equal Pay Act of 1963 makes it illegal to pay different wages to men and women if they perform equal work in the same workplace.
- The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) protects people who are 40 or older from discrimination because of age.
- Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) makes it illegal to discriminate against a qualified person with a disability in the private sector and in state and local governments. The law also requires that employers reasonably accommodate the known physical or mental limitations of an otherwise qualified individual with a disability who is an applicant or employee, unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the operation of the employer’s business.
- Sections 501 and 505 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 make it illegal to discriminate against a qualified person with a disability in the federal government.
- The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA) makes it illegal to discriminate against employees or applicants because of genetic information. Genetic information includes information about an individual’s genetic tests and the genetic tests of an individual’s family members, as well as information about any disease, disorder or condition of an individual’s family members (e., an individual’s family medical history).
If you believe that you have been discriminated against you can file a Charge of Discrimination. All of the laws enforced by the EEOC, except for the Equal Pay Act, require you to file a Charge of Discrimination before you can file a job discrimination lawsuit against your employer. There are time limits for filing a charge.
If you file a charge, you may be asked to try to settle the dispute through mediation. Mediation is an informal and confidential way to resolve disputes with the help of a neutral mediator. If the case is not sent to mediation, or if mediation does not resolve the problem, the charge will be given to an investigator.
If an investigation finds no violation of the law, you will be given a Notice of Right to Sue. This notice gives you permission to file suit in a court of law.
If a violation is found, the EEOC will attempt to reach a voluntary settlement with the employer. If it cannot reach a settlement, your case will be referred to the EEOC’s legal staff (or the Department of Justice in certain cases), who will decide whether the agency should file a lawsuit. If the EEOC decides not to file a lawsuit, it will give you a Notice of Right to Sue.
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF LABOR
The Department of Labor (DOL) administers and enforces more than 180 federal laws. Following is a brief description of the most common laws protecting employees.
- The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires certain employers to grant up to 12 weeks of leave during a 12-month period to eligible employees who need time off because of a “serious health condition” that they or someone in their family is experiencing.
- The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) prescribes standards for wages and overtime pay, which affect most private and public employment. The Act is administered by the Wage and Hour Division of the DOL and requires employers to pay covered employees who are not otherwise exempt at least the federal minimum wage and overtime pay of one-and-one-half-times the regular rate of pay.
- Pursuant to the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), certain persons who serve in the armed forces have a right to reemployment with the employer they were with when they entered service. This includes those called up from the reserves or National Guard. These rights are administered by the Veterans’ Employment and Training Service (VETS).
- Garnishment of employee wages by employers is regulated under the Consumer Credit Protection Act (CCPA) which is administered by the Wage and Hour Division. An example of wage garnishment is a deduction for child support payments.
- Plant closings and layoffs may be subject to the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN). WARN offers employees early warning of impending layoffs or plant closings.
- The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH) is administered by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Employers covered by the OSH Act must comply with the regulations and the safety and health standards promulgated by OSHA. Employers also have a general duty under the OSH Act to provide their employees with a workplace free from recognized, serious hazards.
NATIONAL LABOR RELATIONS BOARD
The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) protects workers who wish to form, join or support unions, or who are already represented by unions, as well as workers who join together as a group (two or more employees) without a union and who seek to modify their wages or working conditions.
DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Immigrant and Employee Rights
The Immigration and Nationality Act, as amended by the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA) protects individuals from employment discrimination based on immigration or citizenship status and prohibits document-abuse discrimination. For more information, contact the Immigrant and Employee Rights Section (IER) in the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, which offers free and anonymous hotlines for workers with questions about their rights, and for employers who have questions about their obligations under the IRCA. Calls can be anonymous and in any language: