The unemployment rate is the lowest it has been in two decades, and right now there are more job openings nationally than there are unemployed people actively seeking work. Nevada’s unemployment rate is about a percentage point higher than the national rate, but we have come a long way since the Great Recession devastated the Nevada economy from Hawthorne to Henderson. Observers have been puzzled as to why wages are not rising rapidly during a period of such robust employment, and workers should know this is the best opportunity they have had in years to ask for a salary increase. While you work up the nerve to have that conversation with your boss, keep an eye on these four aspects of your work-life to make sure you’re being treated fairly.
Count Your Hours
With the availability of smartphones these days, you can keep a cloud-based spreadsheet of your work hours right in your pocket. This is a very sound practice for hourly employees and it doesn’t hurt for salaried folks, either. Clerical mistakes or – in some workplaces – shady practices can lead to small hours-shaving that can cost you big in the long run. Counting your hours in a separate document helps guard against this potential abuse and makes it easier for you to project your income and household budget. If you believe that you have been the victim of wage theft, the Las Vegas Workers Center can provide advice and referrals.
Employee or Not?
If your employer has extolled the benefits of being an “independent contractor,” be wary. Employers often emphasize the ability to deduct work expenses and “choose your hours” when you work for them as an independent contractor. But those same employers often impose strict requirements on the nature of your work, making you an employee by a different name. This has several benefits for employers: wage and hour regulations may not apply, they can get out of paying the employer’s share of federal taxes, and they can cut costs on benefits and worker’s compensation insurance. So-called workman’s comp is funded in various ways; in Nevada, employers pay insurance premiums to private companies based on the number of workers, the industry, and other factors. If your employer is wrongly characterizing you as an independent contractor, they might not be paying the appropriate amount for worker’s compensation insurance. If you have concerns about a worker’s compensation issue in your Las Vegas workplace, contact Benson & Bingham or another reputable southern Nevada worker’s compensation law firm for advice.
Paid Leave: Take It, Don’t Leave It
When you are hired, make sure that you understand how paid time off (PTO) accumulates, whether it expires at any point, and what is done with such hours when you separate from the company. You want to know this information when relations are positive with your employer so that, if things end badly, you will know what rights you need to defend. After many years of service, some employees feel a sense of loyalty that can prevent them from “cashing in” on the paid leave they have earned. Don’t forget: that paid leave accrued as an alternative to a higher wage. If your sense of duty doesn’t make you want to forfeit annual raises, don’t let it trick you into foregoing your duly earned PTO! Also, make sure you understand the Federal Medical Leave Act, which generally applies to employers with 50 or more employees. This law can protect your job if you take unpaid time off for certain family care needs. To learn more about Nevada paid leave worker protections, contact the Nevada Labor Commissioner or visit workplacefairness.org.
The final area to watch for is unique to historically subordinated and marginalized groups including women and people of color: discrimination. (While federal law is in flux on this topic, Nevada law regulates discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation). Discrimination can arise at any point during the employment relationship: hiring decisions, pay disparities, harassment and hostile work environment, enforcement of workplace policies, allocation of promotions and other benefits, and in firing. Several Las Vegas law firms specialize in employment discrimination cases and can counsel you on fair employment issues at their offices in Henderson, North Las Vegas, and throughout Clark County.