First, be sure you are an “employee”

You should make sure you really are an “employee” rather than an independent contractor aka “freelancer.” If you are an independent contractor, most employment laws do NOT apply to you. See our Freelancer/Independent Contractor page for more.

Are employment laws the same everywhere?

No. Much of employment law is made at the state and local level. But when there is no relevant state or local law, federal employment law generally applies. Here we will discuss federal employment laws, but it’s best to check the laws of your state and county/city. (See employment laws for California)


1. Minimum Wage

What is the minimum wage?

Federal minimum wage is currently $7.25, but most states have a higher minimum wage than that. See here for a list of minimum wage by state. And see here for a list of cities and counties which have a higher minimum wage than their state minimum wage.
Barista rights

2. Free speech

Is my employer allowed to restrict my right to use my personal social media on my own time?

In some ways, yes. If you complain about or say bad things about your employer on Facebook, etc., they can probably legally fire you.  But you DO have the right to use social media for the purpose of getting coworkers to join together to address work-related issues and share information about pay, benefits, and working conditions.1National Labor Relations Act

NOTE: This applies whether you are in a union or not. But BE CAREFUL here. If you just complain about your employer on social media without any intention of getting your coworkers together, this activity may not be protected.

And depending on your state, you MAY have the right to speak out politically, except when your posts have negative implications for your employer or when your employer’s restrictions on posting relate to your job. For example, journalists may be prohibited by their employer from volunteering for political campaigns, or participating in political marches.

Posting about your employer anonymously is probably fine, although it’s possible that your identity could be later revealed. However, employers may NOT require that you identify yourself when posting.2Boch Imports (2015) 362 NLRB No. 83; §8(a)(1) of the National Labor Relations Act (29 USC §158)

Can my employer prohibit me from participating in political activity on my own time?

As explained above, it depends on your state. So, maybe.

Is my employer allowed to prohibit me from revealing my salary?

NO. Under federal law you have the right to discuss your salary with others, and your employer is legally prohibited from doing anything to retaliate against you for doing so.3National Labor Relations Act

3. Intellectual property

Who owns the rights to work I create during my employment?

Often your employer will have you sign an agreement granting them all rights to any potential intellectual property you could possibly create during the employment relationship, including copyright, trademark, and patent. So check for this first.

If not, see our Copyright page.

4. Taking action with other employees to improve working conditions

You have the right to organize co-workers to take actions with the goal of improving the terms and conditions of your employment. A single employee may act alone if he or she is acting on behalf of other employees, bringing group complaints to the employer’s attention, trying to induce group action, or seeking to prepare for group action.4National Labor Relations Act You do NOT need to be in a union to exercise this right.

5. Taxes

Employers are required to send you a copy of a W-2 form by Jan 31 for the prior year’s income. The W-2 says how much that employer paid you in that year, and how much they took out in taxes.


California has very favorable laws for employees, but they can be complicated. If you feel your rights have been violated, we highly encourage you to find an employment lawyer. Many employment lawyers offer free consultations, and many even agree to be paid solely as a percent of your case payout; so don’t hesitate to give them a call!

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