What Legal Protections do Employees Have despite Alabama’s At-Will Employment?

Most people understand that Alabama is an at-will employment state.  Simply stated, that means that an employer can fire an employee for any reason, a bad reason or even without providing a reason.  While the at will employment doctrine certainly limits legal protections for the Alabama workforce, there are still numerous law that an Alabama business must comply related to employee rights.  The following is not intended to be a comprehensive list of law protecting Alabama employees, but simply a brief outline of ones we commonly deal with in our law practice.

  • Discrimination and Retaliation:  Federal Law protects Alabama employees from discrimination based on race, gender, age (over 40), religion, national origin, and disability.  Employees are also protected from retaliation by the employer for reporting or complaining about incidents of discrimination.
  • Sexual Harassment:  Federal law also prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace either by supervisors or co-workers when the employer knows or should have known of the sexually offensive conduct.  When there is severe sexual harassment in the workplace, employees may be entitled to significant damages for emotional distress and punitive damages.
  • Reasonable Accommodation for Disabilities: Under the Americans with Disability Act (ADA), employers are required to offer a reasonable accommodation to someone with a disability if they can otherwise perform essential functions of the position.
  • Medical Leave:  Many employers are required to provide employees with the option of taking up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)  to address a serious health condition that either the employee is dealing with or to address the health condition of a family member.
  • Additional Payment for Overtime:  Most employers are required to pay employees at least a minimum wage of $7.25/hour and an overtime rate of time and a half for work performed over 40 hours per week.  While this typically applies to hourly employees, some salaried employees may be entitled to overtime depending on the nature of the job.
  • Retaliation for Reporting Work Related Injuries:  Employers are prohibited from retaliating against an employee for filing a claim for worker’s compensation.  If an employee can show that they were terminated solely because they reported a work related injury they may be entitled to damages.
  • Whistleblower Protections:  Employers that accept federal funds or perform work with federal contracts are prohibited from making false claims for payment to the government.  Employees with knowledge of this activity may be entitled to recover significant awards from the government for reporting this activity and cannot be retaliated against for reporting such activity.

This list is just a brief summary of protections for at-will employees in the State of Alabama. Individuals who feel their rights have been violated or employers who need advice in complying with these laws can contact our office at (205) 358-3100 or by sending an email to wbeckum@beckumkittle.com.

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