Is Your Employer Breaking The Law?

Is Your Employer Breaking The Law

We’ve all had bosses whose methods we don’t wholly agree on. But what do you do if your boss is using methods that are actually illegal? And what if this illegal activity impacts you and your rights as an employee?

A surprisingly high amount of employers break employment laws regularly. This post takes a look into what kind of laws get broken and what to do if you think your employer is breaking the law.

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Breaking the law vs breaking their contract

First, it’s important to clarify the difference between ‘breaking the law’ and ‘breaking an employment contract’. Laws are rules that are put in place by the government or local authorities. A contract is made up of rules which an employer and employee make up and agree on. Although a written contract is supposed to be legally binding, breaking the rules of a contract is not technically ‘breaking the law’.

A good example is an employer underpaying you. You may have agreed in a contract to a certain monthly wage, however it is not illegal if an employer pays you less than agreed. This is because there is no federal law against pay docking. You can and should still file a lawsuit (and you’ll probably win your case). However, an employer cannot be fined or jailed for underpaying you (unless they’re paying you less than the minimum wage of your state). 

This distinction is important to make as it can help you determine how to proceed when it comes to defending your rights. 

Common laws employers break

There are many employment laws that are regularly broken by employers. These include:

Not offering enough breaks

While there are no federal laws stating that workers are entitled to breaks, several states do have laws in place when it comes to offering breaks during shifts. A lot of employers do not follow these rules and may forget to allow employees to take breaks or even encourage employees to work through their break during periods. Denying breaks in these cases is illegal and you can take legal action.

Not paying for overtime

Federal law states that all workers covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) are entitled to overtime pay for any time worked beyond 40 hours in a week. If you have been asked by an employer to work late due to understaffing or other problems – and this puts you over the 40 hours per week mark – you should be getting paid for any extra work you do. Having a knowledgeable lawyer and solid evidence at hand can help you receive compensation for any unpaid overtime.

Refusing to offer paid leave

Fallen sick and wasn’t offered any pay? It could be worth looking into your state’s laws regarding paid leave. Many states require employers to offer sick leave to their employees. In some states like California and New York, maternity pay is also mandatory.

Wrongly dismissing staff

Wrongful termination occurs when an employer fires an employee for an illegal reason. An example of this could be firing an employee because of their race or gender, or firing an employee because they are disabled or pregnant. If you know someone who has been dismissed for such a reason – or you have been fired yourself on such grounds – it’s worth taking legal action.

Paying under minimum wage

An employer must pay you the minimum hourly wage of your state. If you think an employee is paying you less than the state minimum wage, you should definitely take action. You can research minimum wage laws per state online. Some employers may try to get around this by hiring employees as independent contractors, which is something to be careful of when signing a contract. 


There are many things that can class as discrimination in the workplace, and they are all illegal. As already mentioned, firing an employee for discriminatory reasons is not legal, however an employer also cannot refuse to hire someone based on discriminatory grounds. This includes a person’s race, religion, sex, orientation, disability or age. An employer can similarly get in trouble for underpaying people based on these grounds or refusing privileges that everyone else at the company gets. If you think you have been discriminated against, it could be worth taking legal action. 

Banning employees from discussing pay

An employer cannot put in place rules that prohibit employees from discussing pay with their colleagues. This is in fact a federal law – and it is one that many employers and employees alike are unaware of. If you have been reprimanded for discussing pay with a colleague, you may want to consider following this up. 

Not providing adequate health and safety equipment

Many industries are legally required to follow OSHA standards. These are health and safety standards – which includes supplying proper protective equipment in certain workplaces during certain circumstances. If you think certain protective equipment is lacking, it’s possible that your employer may have broken the law, and it could be worth looking into this further.

What to do if your employer is breaking the law?

If you are certain that your employer is breaking the law, it is important that you don’t ignore it. Such laws are in place to protect you and your colleagues, and it is therefore important that these laws are upheld. 

You typically have three choices if an employer is breaking the laws.

Report it to your employer

The first option is to tell your employer directly that you think they are breaking the law. It is possible that your employer may be doing it unknowingly and it may take someone like you to warn them that what they are doing is illegal. You may find that they then attempt to correct this and offer compensation willingly. Of course, even if they are breaking the law knowingly, they may still try to offer compensation willingly in order to avoid any legal action. If an employer still refuses to change anything or offer compensation, you may have to take your complaint elsewhere. 

Report it to someone higher up the chain

If your employer is not the CEO and has people working above them, consider taking your concerns to them. They may then be able to reprimand your employer and ensure that any affected parties are paid compensation. This could be a good option if you do not feel you can confront your employer directly, or you have already tried and had no joy. You may be able to remain anonymous when reporting this problem, but it may not always be possible – in small teams, your employer may eventually guess that it was you who reported them.

Report it to state authorities

Is it time to get the police involved? If an employer is clearly breaking the law, you can report the issue to the police. There could also be organizations like OSHA that you can report problems to – these organizations may be able to schedule an inspection. A concern that many employees have in this case is anonymity. Can a whistleblower remain anonymous? In many cases, yet. Just make sure that you do not take the issue to the press, as you could lose your rights to anonymity and be sued for slander. Legal consultants will be able to give you a better idea of how to report the crime while staying anonymous. 

File a lawsuit

Lawsuits are better suited to breach of contract issues rather than cases where state and federal laws have been broken. This involves hiring a lawyer to help you put forward a case to a tribunal. If you win, your employer will then have to pay out a sum of money to you or someone else of your choosing. A good lawyer will be able to offer you advice so that you can determine whether you have a case or not. Make sure to choose a lawyer who experience in employment law and who has a good reputation. 

Leave your job?

An employer cannot fire you for whistleblowing or suing them. If you would like to stay at the company and continue working there, you are in your right to. However, many people can find it awkward to continue working for an employer who they have reported or sued – especially if you were not anonymous when making your report or claim. It is often worth quitting and finding another job if you do not like your current work. If it is otherwise a job you enjoy, quitting may not be a good idea.


Employers can break the law in many different ways and it is important to recognise when a law has been broken relating to your rights as an employer. Taking action can ensure that your employer is made aware of their wrongdoings and penalized if necessary. Reporting the problem to someone else is usually the best way to deal with an employer who is breaking the law. Filing a lawsuit is good for a breach of contract. You can also quit your job if you feel that your work environment is no longer pleasant enough to stick around in. 

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