3 Federal Employment Laws That You Should Be Aware Of

Many of the employee rights we take for granted in the modern workplace came from workers' protests dating back to the 19th century and the early days of our industrialized economy. Just read Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist, and you'll get a fair idea of what workers were up against: children as well as adults slaved away for more than 16 hours a day, slept in work houses on factory property, were fed barely enough to keep them going, and holidays were unheard of.

In the 20th century, starting at the time of the Great Depression and continuing into the 1970s and 1980s, demands for worker rights led to the passage of a number of landmark laws by the U.S. Congress.

Here are three of those essential laws that continue to govern what we have come to expect from our employers:

1. The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938.

Also known as the Wages and Hours Act, this employment law regulates the minimum wage, overtime pay, equal pay and child labor. The act forbids employers to retaliate against whistle-blowing employees who report employer violations of worker rights.

And listen up all you freelancers and contract workers: this law also prohibits employers from treating you as an employee but then paying you as an independent contractor. In other words, when an employer doesn't pay you overtime and doesn't provide you with benefits, you are under no obligation to punch a time clock or ask permission to take a day off. You may be working in someone else's office, but you are still your own boss.

For more information, check out what the IRS has to say about independent contractors.

2. The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993.

Another landmark Federal labor law, the Family and Medical Leave Act grants qualified employees up to 12 weeks of medical leave per year to care for themselves or qualified family members, without losing their jobs or group health benefits.

It's this law that has allowed mommies and daddies to stay home with their newborns without worrying about losing their jobs. Specifically, the law states that upon return from leave, an employee must be returned to the same position or to an "equivalent position with equivalent benefits, pay, status, and other terms and conditions of employment.

While the act doesn't require employers to pay employees who take a medical leave, some do anyway as a voluntary benefit to employees. Find out how the law protects you.

3. Discrimination Laws (including the Civil Rights Act of 1964).

Discrimination laws, which are many and varied, have been passed over the years by Congress. They make it illegal for employers to discriminate against workers and job seekers based on their age, disability, national origin, race, religion, genetics or gender.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces the biggest landmark discrimination laws related to employment, but states also have enacted their own laws that may go beyond the minimum protections afforded by the EEOC rules.

Take a look at employment discrimination laws ranging from people with disabilities to veterans to senior citizens to bankrupt workers to everyone in between.

Next:Employment Reference Checks - What You Need to Know

Read Full Story