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Navigating employment regulations in the United States

May 1, 2024

Federal employment regulations in the U.S. are numerous, and include anti-discrimination laws, as well as laws governing employee rights, hiring processes, leave, wages, working conditions, and many more. On top of that, some individual states also have their own laws in place that can supersede the federal minimums regarding minimum wage, paid family leave, etc.

In this article, we’ll provide a broad overview of federal government labor laws in the U.S. — and note which employee benefit businesses hiring remote workers in the U.S. can provide in order to attract the best possible talent.

Federal Employment Laws and Regulations in the U.S.

The Department of Labor (DOL) maintains over 180 federal employment laws and regulations in order to ensure U.S. employees’ rights to fair, safe, and healthy working conditions.

Here is a summary of the categories the DOL oversees and the major laws meant to govern them:

  • Anti-discrimination: The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) are meant to prevent discrimination aimed at individuals with disabilities (ADA) and those who are older than 40 years of age (ADEA) in the workforce.
  • Civil rights: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits workplace discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin.
  • Leave: The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) safeguards eligible employees' jobs while granting them up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year for qualified family and medical reasons.
  • Wage equality: The Equal Pay Act (EPA) ensures equal pay for men and women who work for the same employer and perform jobs that require substantially equal skill, effort, and responsibility, and are performed under similar working conditions.
  • Workplace safety and health: The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) empowers employees with the right to a safe and healthy workplace and governs employee exposure to harmful chemicals, excessive noise, unsafe machinery, extreme temperatures, and unsanitary conditions.
  • Workplace standards: The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) establishes workplace standards for minimum wage, overtime pay rules, recordkeeping requirements, and child labor protections for most full- and part-time employees who work in the private sector and various governmental roles.

Although we’ll touch on several of these categories and laws in more depth, the information in this article is meant to provide a high-level overview. For a full rundown of U.S. labor laws, please refer to the DOL website. Also, a few of these laws may not be as relevant for remote workers.

Fair Labor Standards Act

The FLSA applies to most employees in the private sector as well as those in certain federal, state, and local agencies. Key stipulations include:

Minimum wage:

  • The federal minimum wage is currently $7.25 per hour.
  • If both state and federal minimum wage laws apply, employees are entitled to the higher rate (as in Illinois, where the minimum wage is $14 per hour).

Overtime pay:

  • Non-exempt employees who work more than 40 hours in a workweek (168 consecutive hours) are entitled to overtime pay at a rate of one and a half times their regular pay.
  • There's no limit on the number of hours employees aged 16 or older can work, but overtime pay applies to hours exceeding 40.
  • Overtime pay isn't mandatory for weekends, holidays, or regular days off unless overtime hours are worked on those days.

Hours worked:

  • FLSA considers "hours worked" as any time you're required to be on the employer's premises, on duty, or at a designated workplace.


  • Employers are required to display an official FLSA poster outlining employee rights.
  • They must also maintain records of employee work hours and pay.

Child labor:

  • The FLSA protects the educational opportunities of minors and restricts their employment in hazardous or detrimental working conditions.

U.S. Employment Policies

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act combine to ensure all employees have equal opportunities in the workplace. Here is an overview of key protections against discriminatory practices.

Unlawful Discriminatory Employment Practices

Federal law prohibits employers from discriminating against job applicants or employees based on any aspect of race, color, religion, sex (including gender identity, sexual orientation, and pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability, or genetic information.

This means it's illegal for employers to:

  • Publish job advertisements that favor or discourage applicants based on the above characteristics. Omitting information about workplace accessibility, for example, or mentioning physically demanding tasks could discourage applicants with disabilities.
  • Recruit in a way that excludes certain groups. Say, a qualified candidate for a software engineering position is not selected for an interview because their resume lists a religious organization they volunteer for.
  • Employ someone based on factors other than qualifications, such as whether an otherwise unqualified candidate receives a job offer because they’re a friend of an employee.
  • Promote or give raises based on discriminatory criteria. Say, employees from the East Coast of the U.S. are routinely promoted over employees from the South.
  • Set wages in a way that disadvantages certain groups, such as regularly paying women or minorities less than their white or male counterparts.

Discipline & Discharge

Employers cannot base disciplinary actions or terminations on an employee's protected characteristics.

For example, if one male and one female employee each regularly miss the same meetings, their employer cannot determine disciplinary measures based on their gender or sex. Rather, they should be held equally accountable.

Similarly, during layoffs, employers cannot target older employees solely based on age. Decisions regarding layoffs should be based on job-related factors like performance or seniority. For example, layoffs that only included workers over age 40 could be considered wrongful termination.

Reasonable Accommodations & Disability

Federal law requires employers to provide eligible employees with what’s referred to as “reasonable accommodations” — e.g., those that don't create undo difficulty or expense for the business.

This ensures everyone has a fair shot at success, regardless of factors like:

  • Disability: Employers should adjust the work environment or job duties to allow employees with disabilities to perform their jobs (e.g., a neurodivergent employee may be provided with a private workspace to minimize distractions).
  • Pregnancy: Accommodations might include modified work schedules, ergonomic furniture, or temporary light duty for pregnancy-related limitations.
  • Religion: Employers may need to consider flexible scheduling or shift swaps to enable employees to practice their religion.


Harassment can be verbal, physical, or visual. Examples include:

  • Offensive jokes, comments, or slurs
  • Threats or intimidation
  • Unwelcome sexual advances

It's illegal when:

  • It's severe or frequent enough to create a hostile work environment.
  • It leads to negative job consequences (like getting fired or demoted).

Simple jokes or isolated incidents are not illegal (though of course, they may be in bad taste). The key, here, is that repeated or severe behavior that interferes with work or creates a hostile environment is unacceptable.

It’s important to remember that anyone can commit workplace harassment. This includes supervisors, coworkers, clients, customers, or even individuals not employed by your company.

U.S. Employment Contracts

Most jobs in the U.S. are "at-will," meaning both employers and employees can choose to end the working relationship without contractual stipulations.

Still, some professionals and highly skilled talent may have formal employment contracts covering the employment relationship, including non-compete agreements. These contracts typically outline:

  • Employee responsibilities
  • Compensation and benefits
  • Dispute resolution methods
  • Confidentiality and non-competition clauses
  • Termination details

Regardless of whether an employee has a contract, the same rules and regulations outlined in federal law apply.

Paid Leave Laws in the U.S.

Unlike many other countries, the U.S. has no federal law that mandates paid time off, sick leave, or vacation days. Depending on the size of the company, employers may be required to offer eligible employees unpaid job-protected leave through the FMLA.

State variations:

Some states, however, offer a safety net. Thirteen states and Washington, D.C. have paid family and medical leave programs, while some (like Massachusetts and Hawaii) provide paid benefits for maternity leave.

Employer-driven benefits:

While not required, many employers offer paid vacation, sick leave, and increasingly, parental leave benefits to attract and retain talent.

Likewise, as the U.S. lacks a national health system, employer-sponsored health insurance is a common benefit.

Remofirst Makes it Easier for Employers to Comply with Federal Law

The regulatory landscape for U.S. employers is complex, with a mix of federal and state laws that continue to evolve.

Emerging trends, like California's "Right to Disconnect" bill, and potential regulations around remote work similar to those in Spain, highlight the dynamic nature of how federal law governs employee rights, and the challenges of navigating employment law.

Employers found to be non-compliant with U.S. labor laws could receive fines and penalties and even face legal action. In order to mitigate those risks companies could employ an expert in U.S. labor laws, seek legal advice, or partner with an Employer of Record, like Remofirst.

We assume the responsibility for all formal human resource employment tasks on behalf of your company to ensure that your business remains compliant with federal and state laws. We can handle everything from payroll, to ensuring that any independent contractors you hire do not put you at risk of worker misclassification. Remofirst can also manage benefits for your U.S.-based employees, including health insurance coverage.

Book a demo today to learn more.