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US Workplace Regulations
Sick Leave and Family Leave
As far as sick leave and parental leave are concerned, these special cases are covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). It allows for up to 12 weeks of job-protected unpaid leave per year in order to recover from a serious health condition, to look after a newborn baby or a newly adopted child, or to take care of a sick family member.
To be eligible for the FMLA, you need to meet the following conditions:
- Your employer is a public agency, school, or larger company with at least 50 employees.
- You work at a location where your employer has 50 or more employees within 75 miles.
- You have worked at least 12 months for your current employer.
- You have accrued a minimum of 1,250 work hours during those 12 months.
As so often, your individual contract may include rather different policies for sick leave or parenting. If this is important to you, try to get some insider information on whether or not a prospective employer is a family-friendly workplace, or how employees with chronic illnesses are treated.
Workplace Safety and Social Security
In terms of workplace safety, every employer has to comply with official health and safety regulations. In case of an accident or an occupational disease, you should be covered by workers’ compensation insurance in each state. However, you might want to consult an attorney, especially if the injury or illness is a serious one.
Your employer automatically deducts your contributions to US social security from your earnings and withholds federal income tax on your behalf. Moreover, plenty of companies offer health insurance to their workforce or help them make retirement provisions (e.g. in the form of a so-called 401k plan). For example, Fortune’s list of the 100 Best Companies to Work for provides some reviews of popular employers who may offer health (and other) benefits.
Don’t hesitate to enquire after such company benefits before signing the contract! But you should always make sure to read the fine print, particularly when it comes to medical insurance. For example, some healthcare plans might not cover dependent family members, or they exclude specific treatments, such as dental care.
Termination and Unemployment
Unless your contract says otherwise, a "hire and fire" policy applies with regard to termination. Your employer doesn’t need to stick to a pre-defined notice period if they want to lay off staff members. (There has to be a previous warning in case of mass lay-offs, though.) But you can also leave the company whenever you want to begin a new career.
If you should lose your job through no fault of your own, you may be eligible for unemployment benefits to support you financially for a while. On this detailed list of workforce services by state, you’ll also find links to local sites that cover the topic of unemployment benefits applications.
Last but not least, most medium-sized businesses, as well as large companies and corporations, are subject to anti-discrimination and anti-harassment laws. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission provides detailed information on policies regarding age, disability, sex, pregnancy and childbirth, race, ethnicity, national origin, and religion.
In general, if you have more detailed questions on US working conditions, labor laws, and your rights in the workplace, get in touch with a lawyer or check out online resources like Workplace Fairness.
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