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Employment Law Glossary

ADA – The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits employers with 15 or more employees from discriminating against a qualified individual with a disability because of that disability in job application procedures; the hiring, advancement or discharge of employees; employee compensation; job training; and other terms, conditions and privileges of employment.

At-Will Employee – An employee that can be fired at any time for any reason, as long as the reason is not illegal. An at-will employee is also free to terminate the employment relationship without notice or cause.

Back Pay – Past wages and benefits that may be awarded to an employee because of a wage violation or other unlawful employment practice by an employer. Back pay can include salary, bonus and overtime.

EEOC – The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is responsible for developing equal employment policy and enforcing federal employment discrimination laws, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Equal Pay Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Fringe Benefits – Benefits or compensation employees receive in addition to salary. Common examples of fringe benefits include subsidized cafeterias, retirement plans, life and health insurance plans, company cars and stock options. Certain fringe benefits that an employer provides to an employee are excluded from the employee’s income for tax purposes.

H-1B Visa – Used for alien workers engaged temporarily in “specialty occupations,” which are defined by the Immigration and Naturalization Act as occupations that require theoretical and practical application of highly specialized knowledge and at least a bachelor’s degree (or its equivalent). Often used for workers in computer-related occupations and in the education, engineering, architecture and administrative fields.

Independent Contractor – An individual who performs services or does work for another person or company, while the other person or company does not have a right to dictate, control or direct how (the method or means) the work is done, only the outcome. Not an employee.

Non-Competition Clause – Provision in an employment contract that prevents an employee from competing with a former employer. Generally, in order to be enforceable it must be limited in duration, scope and geographic area and must be necessary to protect the employer’s good will, trade secrets or proprietary information.

Qui Tam Action – Name for a civil lawsuit brought by a private party on behalf of the government that alleges that the government has been harmed by the defendant’s actions. Any monetary compensation awarded to the private party is divided between the private party and the government.

Reasonable Accommodation – Under the ADA, defined as “making existing facilities used by employees readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities.” It may include “job restructuring, part-time or modified work schedules, reassignment to a vacant position, acquisition or modification of equipment or devices, appropriate adjustment or modifications of examinations, training materials or policies, the provision of qualified readers or interpreters, and other similar accommodations for individuals with disabilities.” 42 U.S.C. § 12111(9).

Severance Pay – Payment that an employer gives an employee upon termination of the employment relationship. It is usually based on how long the employee worked for the employer, and may include other benefits such as stock options.

Social Security – Employers withhold Social Security taxes from employees’ paychecks and send them to the Internal Revenue Service and report all employee earnings to the Social Security Administration (SSA). The SSA pays retirement and disability benefits based on the earnings reported by employers. Social Security pays full retirement benefits at retirement age, which is 67 for people born after 1960. Disability benefits are available to individuals that have a severe physical or mental impairment that prevents them from working for a year or more and individuals that have a medical condition that is expected to result in death.

Unemployment Compensation – Compensation that is available to employees that have been laid off or otherwise have lost their jobs through no fault of their own. Employees must apply for these benefits through state agencies. It is generally funded by a payroll tax that employers must pay.

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