Employee rights gained tremendous momentum in the 20th century. Before that, employees weren’t treated fairly or equally. We have all heard the stories over the years, and the thought of those times ever having existed is horrifying. The most awful part is that those “times” weren’t that long ago. Here we look at federal laws that protect employees.

Historically, people of colour and women were among those who were subjected to truly appalling conditions both in and out of the workplace. Since then, the U.S. Department of Labor started enforcing rules and laws to regulate worker’s rights and today, nearly 200 protection laws are enforced across the country.

Below are five interesting federal laws that all employees should be aware of:

1. Minimum Wage

Since 2009, the majority of employers in the private and public sectors have had to pay their employees a minimum of $7.25 an hour, and there are forces at work who are trying to get that amount increased.

The minimum wage varies from state to state, with the District of Columbia’s bare minimum set at $16.50 – over triple the rate of workers in Georgia who don’t fall under the FLSA.


The Fair Labor Standards Act came into law in 1938 and is one of America’s most sacred labour laws. This law created the right for workers to earn a minimum wage, and get paid overtime, and strictly prohibited oppressive child labor.

More than 150 million American workers get covered by the FLSA, which gets strictly enforced by the Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor. This means, barring a few exceptions, all workers must be paid overtime rates for working over 40 hours a week.

This law offers protection for minors, limiting the number of hours anyone under the age of 16 can work and helps businesses avoid non-compliance.

3. Workplace Safety

Before the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, workers were not guaranteed to work in a space free from dangers and hazards. This legislature created specific safety provisions on an industry-specific level – for industries that were historically unsafe to work in.

Some of these industries include agriculture, construction, and mining. There is also a “General Duty Clause” in the act, which prohibits any workplace practice that poses a clear risk to workers. To learn more about your rights as an employee, click on this page.

4. Social Security

The Social Security Act was signed into law by President Roosevelt in 1935 and aimed to provide disabled and retired Americans with some financial security. Over 65 million Americans receive Social Security checks each month – with retirees getting a little over $1600 and disabled citizens qualifying for just over $1300.

These benefits get funded through a payroll tax, and all employers and employees contribute 6.2% of their earnings – capped at a maximum annual amount.

5. Family Leave

One of the last laws to be signed in, and you can thank President Clinton for this last one. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) came into law in 1993 and affords eligible employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year if they want to stay at home with a newborn or in cases of personal or family illnesses.

To qualify for this benefit, employees must have been with their employers for at least a year and must have worked 1250 hours during the previous year. This law only applies to businesses that employ 50 employees or more within a 75-mile radius.

These federal laws allow American employees to enjoy the protection designed to provide them with a decent wage. They also safeguard them from certain workplace dangers and risks.