If you work in Oklahoma, you should know about the federal and state laws that protect your workplace rights. This guide provides some basic information on your right to work free of discrimination, your right to minimum wage and overtime protections, and much more.
Wage and Hour Laws in Oklahoma
The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) sets the wage and hour standards employers must follow, including the minimum wage, overtime, and other wage protections. Employers must pay the highest minimum wage applicable to employees, whether set by federal, state, or local law. The minimum wage in Oklahoma is the same as the federal minimum wage: $7.25 an hour.
If you earn tips as part of your compensation, your employer can pay you a lower minimum wage – as little as half of the regular minimum wage – as long as you earn enough in tips to bring your total hourly pay up to at least the full minimum wage of $7.25.
Under the FLSA, Oklahoma employers must pay employees time and a half if they work more than 40 hours in a week. (Oklahoma doesn't have its own overtime law.) Not all employees are entitled to earn overtime, however. If you fall within an exception to the overtime laws (for example, because you are a salaried manager as defined by the law), you are an exempt employee, which means you are not eligible for overtime. You can find out more about the FLSA from the Wage and Hour Division of the federal Department of Labor. The Employment Standards Division of the Oklahoma Department of Labor handles wage issues in the state.
Oklahoma Discrimination and Harassment Laws
Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from making employment decisions based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), or national origin. Additional federal laws prohibit discrimination based on age (if the employee is at least 40 years old), disability, or genetic information. Employers with at least 15 employees are subject to these laws (for age discrimination, employers with at least 20 employees must comply with the law).
Employers may not discriminate in any part of the employment relationship, from job listings, interviews, and hiring decisions, to promotions, benefits, compensation, discipline, layoffs, and termination. To learn more about the federal laws that ban employment discrimination, see the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s Laws Enforced by the EEOC.
Oklahoma also prohibits discrimination based on these traits. In addition, Oklahoma employers may not discriminate based on an employee’s military service or use of tobacco products (including smoking) while off duty. All Oklahoma employers must comply with these laws. Oklahoma’s Office of Civil Rights Enforcement (part of the Attorney General’s office) enforces these laws.
Workplace harassment is prohibited under these same laws. Harassment is defined as unwelcome actions or statements, based on a protected trait, that create a hostile or offensive working environment or that the target must endure in order to get or keep a job. Sexual harassment is the most familiar type of harassment, but harassment might also be based on race, ethnicity, or another protected trait.
Your employer may not retaliate against you for complaining about workplace harassment or discrimination. You are protected whether you complain within the company, to a government agency (like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or the Oklahoma Office of Civil Rights Enforcement), or in a lawsuit.
Oklahoma Leave Laws
Many employers offer their employees paid leave, such as vacation time, sick days, holidays, or paid time off (PTO) benefits. In Oklahoma, these benefits are discretionary. Some states require employers to give employees paid sick days, but neither Oklahoma nor federal law requires employers to offer paid leave.
However, employers may be required to offer unpaid leave for reasons such as:
- Military leave. The federal Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) and Oklahoma law both require employers to allow employees to take leave from work for federal or state military service or duty. Employees must be reinstated after their leave, and may not be discriminated against based on their service. Under Oklahoma law, members of the state’s national guard may also take time off work for instruction, drills, ceremonies, and other duties.
- Family and medical leave. The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires employers with at least 50 employees to give eligible employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off per year for illness and caregiving, and sometimes longer. While you are on FMLA leave, your employer must continue your group health benefits. You have the right to be reinstated when your leave is through. Although some states have similar laws, Oklahoma does not.
- Jury duty. Oklahoma employers must also allow employees to take time off work for jury service. Employees may not be forced to use their paid leave for jury duty.
- Voting. Oklahoma employees are entitled to take up to two hours off work, with pay, to cast their ballots. Employers are not required to provide this leave if the employee is off work for at least three hours after the polls open or at least three hours before the polls close.
Workers’ Compensation and Workplace Safety Laws
A federal law, the Occupational Safety and Health Act requires Oklahoma employers to provide a safe workplace, free of known hazards. Employers must provide safe, healthy working conditions as well as the training and safety equipment employees need to do their jobs safely.
Employees have the right to request an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspection if they believe their employer has committed safety violations. It is illegal for employers to retaliate against employees who complain of unsafe or hazardous working conditions.
If you suffer an on-the-job injury or illness, you will likely be eligible for workers’ compensation. Most Oklahoma employers are required to carry workers’ compensation insurance. Workers’ comp provides you with a percentage of your usual earnings, pays for necessary medical treatment, and provides vocational rehabilitation and other benefits.
Leaving Your Job
Oklahoma employees generally work at will. This means they can be fired at any time, for any reason that is not illegal. However, even at-will employees may not be fired for reasons that are discriminatory or retaliatory. You may not be fired, for example, for complaining about illegal discrimination or filing a wage claim for unpaid overtime.
If you are laid off or otherwise lose your job through no fault of your own (for example, you are not fired for serious misconduct and you don’t quit voluntarily), you may qualify for unemployment benefits. Once you start receiving benefits, you will have to search for work to continue receiving them. If you are eligible, you will receive a percentage of your previous earnings for 26 weeks while you are looking for a new job. To learn more (or file a claim online), visit the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission.
Under a federal law called the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA), you may have the right to continue your health insurance coverage after your employment ends. However, you will have to pay the full premium (including whatever portion your employer used to pay), plus up to 2% of that amount for administrative costs. You can continue these benefits for 18 to 36 months, depending on your situation.
Talk to a Lawyer
If you have questions about your workplace rights, you should speak to an experienced Oklahoma employment lawyer.