Employment Law - FAQ Archives

Glossary of Employment Law Terms

Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). A federal law that protects older employees (ages 40 and older) from employment discrimination on the basis of age.

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The federal law that protects employees from discrimination on the basis of disability and imposes upon employers the requirement that they make reasonable accommodations for their employees' disabilities.

At-will employment. A type of employment relationship in which there is no contractual agreement and either party may end the employment relationship at any time, for any reason or for no reason at all, without incurring a penalty.

Back pay. A type of damages award in an employment lawsuit that represents the amount of money the employee would have earned if the employee were not fired or denied a promotion illegally.

Cafeteria plan. A type of employment benefits plan in which the employee selects benefits from a menu up to a specified dollar amount.

Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA). The federal law that requires employers to allow employees to continue their health insurance coverage after termination, in the same insurance group, at the group rate, and providing the same benefits.

Comparable worth. Employees who work similar jobs of similar worth to the employer must be paid the same wages, regardless of gender.

Constructive discharge. A type of termination of the employment relationship in which the employee resigns as the result of intolerable working conditions. The employer may be liable as it would be for a wrongful termination.

Defamation. A false statement made orally or in writing that reflects negatively on a person's character. When it is in writing, defamation is called libel. When it is spoken, it is called slander.

Employee assistance program (EAP). A workplace program provided by the employer to assist employees in recovering from drug or alcohol abuse, emotional problems, job stress, marital discord or workplace conflict.

Employee stock ownership plan (ESOP). An employer-provided benefit that allows employees to purchase stock in the company under certain favorable terms.

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The federal administrative agency that enforces laws prohibiting discrimination in employment (www.eeoc.gov).

Equal Pay Act. The federal law that requires employers to pay the same wages to all employees who do the same work, regardless of gender.

Exempt employees. FLSA requires employers to pay most employees overtime wages for all hours worked over 40 per week. However, some employees are exempt from these regulations and do not receive overtime compensation. Exempt employees are often professionals (lawyers, doctors, artists) or highly paid employees (at least $455 per week) who have some decision-making authority in the company.

Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The federal law that regulates minimum wages and overtime compensation. All employees who are not exempt must receive overtime pay when they work more than 40 hours in one week. Overtime usually consists of one and one-half times regular compensation for all hours worked over 40.

Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The federal law that applies to employers who have more than fifty employees on their payroll. FMLA guarantees employees up to twelve weeks unpaid time off from work to care for their own serious medical needs or those of their family members, or to bond with a newborn or newly adopted child, and prohibits employers from retaliating against those employees who ask about or take protected leave.

Front pay. A type of damages award in an employment lawsuit that represents the amount of money the employee would have earned if the employee was reinstated or hired into the higher-paying position from which he or she was rejected illegally.

Garnishment of wages. Taking or seizing the amount owing pursuant to a child support order or other order, directly from the employee's wages, by a state or federal government agency.

Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). The federal law that protects confidential medical information belonging to all individuals. In the employment context, HIPAA means your employer may not have access to your confidential medical information unless it is necessary for the business (i.e., your employer views the results of a drug-screening test to ensure workplace safety, or you submit medical certification to your human resources department to confirm your eligibility for FMLA leave).

Individual retirement account (IRA). A tax-deferred savings account to which the employee contributes no more than a set maximum amount annually.

Implied contract. A type of enforceable contract that is not made explicitly but is implied from the circumstances or the parties' conduct.

Minimum wage. The set minimum hourly rate that employers in most industries are required by law to pay their employees.

Mitigation. Reduction, by the employee, of the amount of damages that will ultimately result from an unlawful employment practice, i.e., obtaining new employment after a wrongful termination.

National origin discrimination. Discrimination on the basis of ethnicity or country of origin.

Non-competition (non-compete) agreement. A contract or part of a contract in which an employee promises not to work for a competing employer or to set up a competing business during, or for a certain length of time after, the employment with the employer.

Occupational disease. An illness that is caused by dangerous workplace conditions, such as black lung disease contracted by miners.

Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA). The federal agency charged with creating and enforcing workplace health and safety standards (www.osha.gov).

Sexual harassment. This can be quid pro quo sexual harassment, where an employer or supervisor demands sex or sexual favors from an employee in exchange for a job benefit (i.e., a supervisor asks for sex in exchange for not firing an employee). In addition, sexual harassment can result from a hostile work environment. Although most hostile work environment claims involve allegations of sexual harassment, a hostile work environment may be based on other protected characteristics, such as an employee's race or religion. A hostile work environment is created where the presence of harassing behavior is so severe and pervasive that it creates an intimidating and offensive work environment, and actually alters the terms and conditions of employment.

Social Security. The federal program of retirement or disability payments created by taxing employees' income.

Stock options. A type of retirement plan in which employees have the opportunity to purchase stock in the company for which they work.

Telecommuting. Working from home or another location remote from the office, by using technology such as telephones and computers.

Title VII. Part of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 that prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of age, color, national origin, race, religion, or sex.

Tuition reimbursement. An employee benefit in which the employer pays all or part of the employee's tuition for coursework or training.

Whistleblower. An employee who discloses the wrongdoing or potential wrongdoing of his or her employer. Whistleblowers, and others who speak out against violations of the law, are protected under several federal statutes, including OSHA (which protects employees who report workplace safety violations), Title VII (which prohibits retaliation for filing a charge of discrimination or for testifying on someone else's behalf in a discrimination case) and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (which protects employees who report their employers' financial fraud).

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