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Federal vs. State Employment Laws

The federal and state governments in the United States have both enacted employment laws, which are regulations that deal with the relationship between a worker and his employer. Differences between federal and state governments affect the regulations relating to the minimum wage, occupational safety, and the right to unionize. Most of the time, federal laws constitute a minimum level of employment regulation, while state laws are more strict.

Minimum Wage Laws

Both federal and state employment laws prescribe a minimum hourly wage for all employees working in the United States. In states where the federal wage is higher than the local minimum wage, the federal wage prevails. In states without a minimum wage law, the federal minimum wage also applies. As of February 2011, the federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. Many states have minimum wages higher than the federal minimum wage, and some states increase their minimum wage automatically every year to correspond with inflation.

National Labor Relations Board

Many federal and state employment laws relate to the issue of unionization. At the federal level, the National Labor Relations Board is the regulatory agency responsible for enforcing federally mandated employment rights and resolving labor disputes. The NLRB generally enforces these laws by answering complaints and bringing lawsuits against companies or individuals who violate the National Labor Relations Act. Congress passed this legislation in 1935 to help protect the rights of employees to unionize and petition for better wages or benefits.

Right-to-Work Laws

At the state level, laws have been passed in recent years that prevent employees from being obligated to pay union dues as a condition of their employment. These laws are on the books in 22 states, and are generally referred to in the media as "right-to-work" laws. These vary from state to state and can be very politically controversial. Generally, states' right-to-work laws prohibit unions from charging dues to all represented employees in unionized workplaces. There is currently no right-to-work law at the federal level.

Occupational Health and Safety

There are often minor differences between federal and state employment laws relating to occupational health and safety. At the federal level, the Occupational Health and Safety Act of 1970 empowers the Department of Labor to make regulations to ensure workplaces are safe places for their employees. Under the law, the states are encouraged to develop their own regulations and agencies for enforcing workplace safety rules. Twenty-two states have done so, and each has its own provisions and administrative agencies for protecting worker safety. Generally, federal law requires state programs to be at least as effective as federal regulation, so most state laws are more strict than OSHA regulations.



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