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US labour law: Frequently asked questions and what you should know

The US labor law differs significantly from other countries’ labor law. If you're planning to relocate to the United States, you'll need to prepare for fundamentally different legal frameworks related to employment.

Paul Scarcia-Scheel is a lawyer living in New York. His question-and-answer guide focuses on US labor law and provides an initial insight into the legal relationships between employees and employers in the United States of America.

Should I include my date of birth, a photo, and marital status in my resume when applying for jobs in the USA?

No! While this is still common in certain countries like Germany, please avoid doing so in the USA. The United States has strict anti-discrimination laws, and nobody should be discriminated against based on their age, ethnicity, disability, and similar factors during the application process. Including your date of birth, photo, and marital status can potentially reveal this information. A hiring manager in the USA is obligated to disregard such information in an application. Including this information may lead to your application being ignored, and you may not receive any feedback.

Is there a uniform, nationwide labor law in the USA?

No. While there are some federal laws that apply across the entire USA, labor law in the United States is primarily a matter of individual states. Each state has its own labor laws. Federal laws establish minimum standards that apply nationwide. If a state law provides greater benefits or protections for employees, then that state law takes precedence.

Is there a minimum wage in the USA?

Yes, there is, and it has been in place since 1938 when the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) was enacted. The current federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. However, the FLSA sets the minimum standard, and individual state laws can provide for higher minimum wages. If a state's law mandates a higher minimum wage, that state law takes precedence.

Is there employee protection in the USA?

No, not in principle. Unless otherwise agreed, both employers and employees can terminate the employment relationship at any time without giving reasons and without observing a notice period. However, this doesn't mean that an employee can be terminated arbitrarily. For instance, an employee cannot be fired for refusing to carry out an unlawful instruction from the employer.

Additionally, there are numerous anti-discrimination laws in the USA. The most significant anti-discrimination law is Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (1964). According to this law, no one can be fired based on their race, color, religion, national origin, or sex. Title VII applies to employers with 15 or more employees. Many individual states in the US have corresponding laws that often apply to employers with fewer than 15 employees.

Is there entitlement to sick pay in the USA?

There is no federal law in the United States that mandates employers to provide sick pay to employees. However, similar to other aspects of US labor law, sick pay regulations can vary by state. Currently, 17 US states have regulations regarding sick pay. States like California and New York have implemented such laws. Even in states without specific sick pay laws, it's possible to include sick pay provisions in employment contracts to provide employees with this benefit.

Is there a legally mandated entitlement to vacation in the USA?

No, currently there is neither a federal law nor any state or municipal law in the United States that establishes a legal entitlement for employees to vacation, whether paid or unpaid. This matter is solely at the discretion of the employers. However, employers are likely to offer more generous vacation benefits when it's important for them to retain qualified employees. Many employers in the USA do provide paid or unpaid vacation, although generally not to the same extent as in Germany for example.

Is there a legal entitlement to parental leave in the USA?

Yes, but only under certain conditions regulated by the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"). The FMLA is a federal law applicable to employers with at least 50 employees and provides employees with the right to a 12-week unpaid leave per year for certain family or medical reasons. The employee must have been employed by the company for at least 12 months. Leave must be granted, for example, if the employee needs to care for a newborn or newly adopted child or for seriously ill next of kin (parents, children, spouse), or if the leave is for the rehabilitation of an employee after a serious illness. However, it's important to note that the FMLA sets only the minimum legal standard, and many individual states in the USA have enacted laws that provide more favorable rights for employees (such as applicability to smaller companies).

Please note that this article contains general information and should not be considered legal advice.

This article is from the 3/2023 issue of the magazine "Life Abroad".

The magazine is published four times a year free of charge with many informative articles on foreign topics.

It is published by the BDAE, the expert for protection abroad.