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  1. Can you give me advice about a legal problem I am having?
  2. Can you help me find out with an inheritance question?
  3. Can you help me deal with a financial problem that I'm having? I need money (or advice on how to handle it).
  4. Can you help me find treatment for or give me advice about a medical problem I'm having?
  5. Can you help me find treatment for or give me advice about a medical insurance problem I'm having?
  6. Can you help me find treatment for, or give me advice about, a mental health issue I'm facing?
  7. How can I tell whether a product or service I'm interested in is a scam or whether it is legitimate?
  8. I'm unhappy with a product or service; can you help me get my money back from (or help arrange some other good solution with) the company?
  9. Can you help me get child support payments owed to me?
  10. Can you help me deal with a government agency that owes me benefits?
  11. My landlord is not meeting his/her obligations (e.g. to make repairs or to do something promised); can you help me?

  12. I feel I'm being treated unfairly or am being overcharged by my public utility company (gas, electric, water, etc.); who can I turn to for help?

  13. What should I do if I suspect my family or property is being harmed by an environmental problem (e.g. toxic substance in the soil)?

  14. What should I do if I'm being discriminated against at work?
  15. Can you help me get money my employer (current or former) owes me?

  16. I served my time for a crime but am being discriminated against in applying for work and a place to live; what are my rights?


  1. Can you give me advice about a legal problem I am having?
  2. Our site cannot give any legal advice or help with anyone's specific legal problem; there are no lawyers on staff and we do not have legal backgrounds (and even if we were lawyers, lawyers need to meet with you to get all the relevant details of your situation).

    A good first step is to do at least some reading on the general issues of whatever problem you are having (divorce, inheritance, traffic tickets, criminal prosecutions, etc.). One good source of information is the Nolo Press site.

    If you have a serious legal problem, we feel there is no substitute for getting help from a lawyer (others disagree; see below). Ask friends and family members whose judgment and experience you respect for suggestions of a lawyer who specializes in, or has a very great deal of experience with, your particular problem (a great divorce lawyer will not be of much help if you're being prosecuted for a criminal offense). If you cannot afford an attorney, contact your local Legal Aid Society; if you can't locate one, contact one of the following organizations for a referral:

    NOTE--- For some legal matters (e.g. a situation that is not a criminal matter, and no one is opposing you, and not much money is at stake), some people can handle some or all aspects of the legal issue themselves with the help of information and forms from very reputable sources (one such source is, again, Nolo Press).

    Fairness.com LLC generally does not encourage this self-help approach. For most people, even in low-stakes situations, we feel that this is not usually the best option; if the matter is serious or high stakes, and you are not very very very experienced and knowledgeable about legal matters, we and most others strongly recommend against it. But if you want some opposing opinions on the matter, see the HALT, SelfHelpSupport.org, and ethicalEsq websites.

  3. Can you help me find out with an inheritance question?
  4. We don't have the staff to be involved in specific cases, but here is some general background information (not legal advice-- see a lawyer for that!) about inheriting money and property.

    First thing: if you are a beneficiary of someone's will you probably have the right to review the will to see its provisions; how you detailed answer depends on whether the estate is part of a Living Trust or not.

    The most common situation is that the estate was not part of Living Trust. After a person dies, the executor of their will must submit the will to probate court. The role of probate court is to ensure that the estate is distributed according to the wishes of the deceased, and not according to the wishes of the executor, for example, or of any third party. Probate court verifies that the will is legitimate (any challenges to the will take place at this point) and reviews the distribution of the estate. For more information on probate court, see this article from www.lawyers.com.

    Probate court can take up to a year, and can be expensive. As soon as the will enters the probate process it becomes public record and can be obtained through the court. This is true even if the estate is small enough not to need to pass through probate court (cut-off amount varies from state to state), since it will be filed with the probate court, and will still be a public record.

    Note that if the property owner died without a will (a highly undesirable situation for all!) the court will assign an “administrator,” usually the deceased’s next-of-kin, to act as executor for the probate process.

    If the estate is left in a Living Trust the will does not become a matter of public record. A Living Trust transfers ownership of assets to a beneficiary, but does not take away the trustee’s control over the same assets. For details see this nolo.com Living Trusts article. Although Living Trusts are private from the general public, any beneficiaries of the Living Trusts are legally permitted to see the conditions of the trust.

    In all these situations, we suggest you consult with a lawyer if you believe you are or should have been a beneficiary and you are dissatisfied or unsure about whether what you received was fair or is/was handled improperly or in a secretive way. There may be time limits by which you need to file complaints or take other legal action, so don’t procrastinate if you think significant sums of money are involved. Make sure you consult with an attorney with extensive experience with estate matters (a large percentage of his/her practice); preferable would be a lawyer specializing in estate matters. If a trusted family member or friend cannot refer you to someone they know is good one referral source is the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel.

    Some popular (as of Spring 2005) books on estate planning and the duties and obligations of executors are:

    Note: if you think you should have been the beneficiary of a relative's estate but weren't contacted about an inheritance you'll need to do some research:

    1. contact the county courthouse to inquire about getting copies of any estate papers.
    2. check with newspapers in that area for possible obituary notices which might indicate if your family member had known survivors.
    3. if it turns out that there is or was an estate that you may have claim on you probably should read a bit about estate law in books or on a site such as Nolo Press

    If you don't know where the relative may have lived or died, use the Social Security Death Indexto try to determine what country your relative lived or died in. If you have difficulty using that site for any reason people familiar with US genealogy can be of great help. Mormon churches also have very extensive genealogy resources and expertise and can be another source of help.

  5. Can you help me deal with a financial problem that I'm having? I need money (or advice on how to handle it).
  6. Unfortunately, Fairness.com doesn't have the staff or expertise to give advice on such topics.... and we don't have any funds that we can give out.

    We have, however, gathered some links here that we hope will be helpful to you in addressing your any financial questions or problems (doing at least some reading/research on such issues is always a good idea if you aren't feeling so desperate that you're paralyzed):

    If you're feeling too overwhelmed by problems, or don't have the background/resources for any preliminary research, contact a friend or relative or clergy and see if they can help you find a good source of impartial information on what options you have. We recommend against going straight to a bank, loan office, or debt restructuring agency without getting some objective advice from smart people you trust who are not whatsoever involved in any aspect of any potential money transactions. However friendly and reassuring a bank or agency may seem, at some level their staff's paychecks are based on what they tell you, and they cannnot necessarily be trusted to give you the best advice for your situation.

  7. Can you help me find treatment for or give me advice about a medical problem I'm having?
  8. Unfortunately our site cannot give any advice or help arrange treatment for anyone's specific medical problems.

    If you're having a serious medical problem, see a doctor right away. Ask friends and family members whose judgment and experience you respect to suggest a doctor who specializes in, or has a very great deal of experience with, your particular problem. [Depending on the terms of any health insurance plan you have you may need to get approvals first.]

    If you cannot afford the cost of seeing a doctor, ask a doctor or hospital worker if there is a free clinic or community health center serving your local area. They have different names in different communities, but check the National Association of Free Clinics site to see if your state's free clinic organization is listed. Your local government probably also has a public health office that can provide information or referrals. If a free clinic is not an option check with a local religious group you or a relative or friend are connected to to see if they can be of help.

    You can always use the Emergency Room of a hospital when treatment or diagnosis are urgently needed... but hospital services are very expensive, and the cost falls on your fellow citizens, so please use this option only when there are no better options!

    If you've received medical care and think you were improperly treated, here are a few general resources that may explain a bit about the topic of medical malpractice:

    As always, lawsuits should be viewed as a last resort; see the helpful Nolo article Deciding Whether to Sue Someone.

  9. Can you help me find treatment for or give me advice about a medical insurance problem I'm having?
  10. Unfortunately we can not be of help with anyone's specific insurance problems; dealing with those issues is complex and requires full information about what insurance you have, what state you live in, whether you have multiple coverages (e.g. private insurance plus medicare), etc.

    Below are some articles we found that provide some helpful information if your request for coverage was turned down by an insurance company:

    Once you have a very good understanding of these issues, and all the details about what coverages you are supposed to have... you may be able to appeal the company's coverage decision.

    Insurance is generally regulated by the each state; if you feel that you are not being treated fairly you should contact the office of the insurance commissioner or attorney general of your state and see what advice they may have.

  11. Can you help me find treatment for, or give me advice about, a mental health issue I'm facing?
  12. Unfortunately our site cannot give any advice about or help arrange treatment for a particular person's specific medical/mental health situation.

    If you know or suspect that you need help with some issues, ask someone whose judgment you respect to suggest a doctor, social worker, clergyman, or local community mental health/public health agency who might talk with you about your situation. One or more of the people above should be willing to talk with you, for at least an initial visit, for little if any cost (if there is a cost and you're lucky enough to have some insurance to help cover it then you may need to get prior approval from the insurance company).

    Below are some national government and non-profit agencies whose websites may provide both helpful information and links to state and local resources:

    The following for-profit websites provide additional information, but we have no information about the quality or objectivity of that information:

    IMPORTANT— the Mental Health Matters website warns that "Self-help information and information from the Internet is useful, but it is not a substitute for professional assistance. Please seek professional help:

    • if you have thoughts of killing (or otherwise harming) yourself or others;
    • if you are gravely disabled (unable to care for yourself)
    • if you are abusing substances;
    • if you or someone else is in any danger of harm."

    Note: If treatment is urgently needed you may be able to visit the Emergency Room of a hospital. Since hospital services are very expensive for you and/or your fellow citizens, please use this option only as a last resort.

  13. How can I tell whether a product or service I'm interested in is a scam or whether it is legitimate?
  14. There are probably thousands of scams "out there"; some are new (taking advantage of new technologies and services), others have been used for decades (either unchanged, or disguised by new sales pitches and new terminology). Unfortunately, Fairness.com doesn't have the staff to track them or advise you of which are which.

    However, we have gathered some good information sources for you which hopefully can help you protect yourself (and friends and family members) from frauds and scams:

  15. I'm unhappy with a product or service; can you help me get my money back from (or help arrange some other good solution with) the company?
  16. Unfortunately, Fairness.com doesn't have the staff to help with such disputes. We have, however, gathered some links and general suggestions below that we hope will be helpful to you:

    • Think about how to tackle the problem in a calm and organized way; acting immediately out of anger is unlikely to get you the result you want.
    • Decide how much the money or the principle means to you and how much of your time and effort you want to invest in the fight. Once you've paid money or signed a contract it may be difficult and time consuming to recover your money (though a very very few categories of contracts can be voided a few days after signing as a matter of law, depending on what state you live in and other factors... check these with other internet sites or, best, with a lawyer).
    • Before you contact the company to ask for a refund, think about whether there is some compromise that will be acceptable to you and might be easier for the other company to agree to. It may be much easier to get some money back, or an apology, or a discount on a future order, or a replacement product, or a free additional product, etc.
    • Make sure you have a written, well-organized description of the chronology of events and all the relevant facts. If it's a long and complicated story, provide a 1-paragraph summary at the beginning of your description so that anyone trying to help you doesn't become immediately bogged down in the details before understanding the overall problem.
    • Don't throw away anything (e.g. the defective or unwanted product, letters, emails, advertisements you responded to, etc.) that are related to your experience with that company.
    • When you contact the company to try to work out a good solution, how you contact them depends on how much money is involved. If it's a lot of money, correspond in writing (letter, fax, email) rather than by speaking in person or by phone... and be very careful what you say or agree to! Some correspondence (e.g. demand letters) must be done by certified US mail, and you should ask for a proof of delivery receipt. If not much money is at stake, you can try a less formal conversation first if that's easier or more comfortable for you (but if it doesn't work right away your best bet is to switch to writing rather than waste your own time on one unproductive phone call after another).

    If you and the company cannot agree on a satisfactory resolution to the problem, and you've decided to fight to get the money back, try the Better Business Bureau as a first step, to see if that company is a member, whether there are other complaints against them, etc. If that doesn't resolve the issue, who you contact to help you next will largely depend on the characteristics of that company and its business:

    1. Small companies with physical locations in your community: your best bets are local newspapers (daily or alternative weekly ones), broadcast stations (TV and radio), and Internet sites that cover local consumer issues. If that doesn't work, try your state government's consumer affairs agency or attorney general's office.
    2. Catalog, mail order, and Internet companies: try one of the national consumer advocate or governmental resources given below.
    3. Large national companies with physical locations in your community: try approach #1 first, then #2 if that fails.
    4. Whatever the company's size and location, if its business is regulated by the government (e.g. banking, insurance, power and communications), you may get very fast results by contacting the government agencies (local, state, and federal) involved in overseeing their activities.
    5. Getting a lawyer to represent you may be difficult; there aren't many who specialize in consumer affairs cases and it can be time-consuming. The Director of the National Consumer Law Center recommended in a Washington Post story: "...retaining a lawyer through the National Association of Consumer Advocates ( http://www.naca.net/ ), which lists consumer lawyers by state. Those who cannot afford a lawyer can try contacting the local Legal Services Corp. office."

    With those general comments as background, we hope that some of the sites below may be helpful to you. However... Fairness.com has no direct experience with these sites, so their listing here is in no way a recommendation or referral, and a sites' inclusion on these lists does not signify that we have verified that they provide any particular services or that the services they do provide are good ones; we list them only as possible first steps for your own research..

    Consumer Protection "Know Your Rights" General Sites

    Consumer Protection - A few Issue-specific sites

    Consumer Advocate Sites

    Consumer "Post a Complaint" Sites

  17. Can you help me get child support payments owed to me?
  18. Unfortunately, Fairness.com does not have the staff resources to help with a particular person's specific situation; all our time and energy goes into finding and making available general information about new laws, new regulations, and new trends that will help whole groups of people.

    An overview of the child support system (which involves the local, state, and federal governments) is at http://www.acf.dhhs.gov/opa/fact_sheets/cse_factsheet.html, and a page with links to each state's overseeing Department of Human Services agency is at http://www.acf.dhhs.gov/programs/cse/extinf.htm#exta .

    Here are some references that we hope will be helpful to you (but we have no direct experience with any of these articles or sites, and they are not a substitute for getting your own legal advice):

  19. Can you help me deal with a government agency that owes me benefits?
  20. Unfortunately, Fairness.com does not have the staff resources to help with a particular person's specific situation; all our time and energy goes into finding and making available general information about new laws, new regulations, and new trends that will help whole groups of people.

    If you need assistance getting what is due you from a government agency, try these steps:

    • Find the right government agency.... see our FAQ page Where can I find information about what government agencies handle a certain issue, or find contact information for an agency or official? If you still can't find the right agency, see if a librarian or government employee can help you find it.
    • Once you are in touch with the right agency, speak with a supervisor if the department's front-line staff are not able to help you.
    • Speak with a community group or social action organization working in a area related to the problem (e.g. a senior citizens or disability rights group on a Social Security matter).
    • Speak with the office staff of one or more of your local, county, state, or federal government officials; their job is to help and represent you!
    • Speak to a local reporter covering consumer affairs issues.

    If none of these steps work, contact an attorney to see if you may need to seek a legal remedy (see our Legal Assistance FAQ for additional suggestions.

  21. My landlord is not meeting his/her obligations (e.g. to make repairs or to do something promised); can you help me?

  22. Unfortunately, Fairness.com doesn't have any staff to get involved in individual cases.

    If the problem is health critical or time critical or if there is a lot of money at stake you need to speak to a lawyer.

    If (hopefully) things are not yet at that point, or if you can't afford to meet with a lawyer (they often offer free initial consultations, and there a local Legal Aide office may be able to help at no or minimal charge), there are other (less good, but still good) information sources available to you.

    The legal information websites Nolo Press and Findlaw.com can be very helpful for finding background information about general problems.

    For more in-depth information there are a number of popular self-help books (often available from public libraries) that should be of great help to you, including:

    If you have a serious legal problem consulting a lawyer or (next best option) a good legal self-help book, are smart moves. If for any reason you can't or won't do that, here are some general suggestions (not true legal advice!):

    • Communicate in writing (i.e. certified letter, return receipt requested) instead of in-person or by phone
    • Always be polite (no personal attacks, no threats), but be very clear and firm about what needs to be done
    • Document what the problem is in case the problem winds up in court; take photos, get written statements from credible witnesses, etc.
    • Get and keep receipts for any payments you make related to your housing

    If you're dealing with a public/subsidized housing landlord, or if your entire community is dealing with a slum lord, you may have a more complex problem. Some resources you might turn to for help or referrals (and helpful websites) are:

  23. I feel I'm being treated unfairly or am being overcharged by my public utility company (gas, electric, water, etc.); who can I turn to for help?

  24. Public utilities are generally regulated by state agencies, so each state has its own consumer advocates. Your first step should always be to talk with your company directly, following the same general consumer complaint guidelines we suggest elsewhere in these FAQs, to explain your problem and see what they can do to address it. Check to see if you quality for reduced rates (based on low income, a disability, age, or other factors). Also see if they have tips or home improvement programs that can help you cut down on energy usage and save money that way.

    If you aren't satisfied with what they tell you there are two other types of organization you might want to contact:

    1. a consumer advocate group that acts as a "watchdog" over your state's public utility commission (PUC) and assists consumers with rate and complaint issues. You can find such organizations for most states on the website of the National Association of State Utility Consumer Advocates (NASCUA)
    2. Your state's public utility commission, the regulator and licensor. The The National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) maintains a directory of these commissions on its website.
  25. What should I do if I suspect my family or property is being harmed by an environmental problem (e.g. toxic substance in the soil)?

  26. A great first step is Environmental Defense's Scorecard.org, which can tell you a great deal about known problems in your community (based on zip code). We also suggest that you spend a bit of time doing web searches to see if you can quickly find any additional evidence of the relevant problem in your locality.

    With that as background, your first call should probably be to your local public health department, to find out local government agencies are responsible for those issues and if any local citizens groups may be working on such issues.

    If you can't find information from these sources, or aren't satisfied with their answers, you can check with both appropriate non-profit advocacy group (e.g. Environmental Defense's programs) and with state government agencies (for example, here are sample pages for Missouri and Pennsylvania).

    Unfortunately, Fairness.com doesn't have any staff to get involved in individual cases... but we hope this information is a good start in finding help.

  27. What should I do if I'm being discriminated against at work?
  28. Dealing with the emotional distress caused by feelings of discrimination, an important issue in itself, is beyond our site's scoop; a sample discussion of those issues is at Moster.com.

    The legal and practical aspects of dealing with workplace discrimination can be complicated. There are both federal and state laws that protect against such discrimination, but what you consider discrimination may not in fact be illegal discrimination. Workplace Fairness, non-profit organization that provides information, education and assistance to workers, has compiled some very general, but very helpful, questions to ask yourself to determine if discrimination laws were likely broken. Included in that discussion is the so-called McDonnell-Douglas Test— a finding of illegal discrimination is more likely when all four of the following are true:

    1. you were a member of a protected class (e.g. age over 40, or disabled)
    2. you were qualified for your position
    3. your employer took adverse action against you
    4. you were replaced by a person who is not in your protected class

    Assuming it was illegal discrimination, you still need to decide what is the best (most practical way for you) to deal with it. A very short but good overview of these options is at http://www.glad.org/rights/EMP_NH.html; though that site is deovted to gay and lesbian issues the principles and discussion are valid for other kinds of discrimination. For example— should you tolerate the discrimination, or leave without challenging it, or follow internal grievance procedures (if any), or start immediate legal action. It's important to give these options serious thought, and ideally do a bit of research or get some advice from people experienced with these issues; acting on impulse and cause yourself further problems.

    If you decide to take action against illegal discrimination, rather than tolerate or leave the situation, a legal complaint is just one of several action options available to you. Evaluate which of these steps (or perhaps some other, less common approach) is best for your situation:

    1. File a complaint internally. Many larger businesses have hotlines that you can call anonymously to report incidents of discrimination at your workplace.

    2. Talk to your superviser about the offense in a calm manner and see if s/he can resolve the problem first. This may not always be necessary. If you're being discriminated against by another employee, talking to your supervisor can be helpful; on the other hand, if your superviser is the one doing the discriminating, that's often not a good course of action. If you try dealing with things internally, remember that charges filed with the EEOC (discussed below) must be done within 180 days of the incident.

    3. Contact a Lawyer to discuss your situation and perhaps help you gather information and evidence before filling a charge with the EEOC (and may help make your complaint stronger). Although you must file with the EEOC before suing a company for discrimination you may be able to sue the company after the EEOC reviews your case. The National Employment Lawyers Association (NELA, website http://nela.org/home.cfm ), has a searchable database of lawyers who specialize in workplace discrimination cases.

    4. Contact state and local organizations:
      • Your state or local government may have agencies that can help you. Generally, federal agencies only cover complaints against companies with 15 or more employees for age discrimination, and 20 or more employees for other forms of discrimination. For companies smaller than those minimum, however, state regulations usually apply. Moster.com lists state Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) sites that have your state's state discrimination laws online.

      • Your area may have a non profit community organization that helps workeers with discrimination claims (of all kinds, not just employment related). To find one in your area, try looking under "Human Service Organizations" in your local phone book or searching online. Examples of such organizations are the Michigan Coalition for Human Rights and the Washington Human Rights Commission.

    5. To learn more about filing a formal complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against your employer go to http://www.eeoc.gov/contact.html. The EEOC handles numerous cases of workplace discrimination every year. To file a charge, you can either mail the charge to the EEOC or visit a branch. The details of how to file a charge, what to include in your charge, what happens after you file it, and more procedural questions are answered on EEOC’s website page Filing a Charge of Employment Discrimination”. Though not easy reading, the full text of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (as amended) is online at http://eeoc.gov/policy/vii.html. This is the landmark civil rights legislation that prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin.

    All the advice so far is very general, applicable to all forms of workplace discrimination. We've also gathered a few links to helpful resources about specific forms of discrimination (note that The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is a great resource for all of these as well):

    1. Age Discrimination
    2. Disability Discrimination
    3. Gender Discrimination
    4. Racial and Ethnic Origin Discrimination
    5. Religious Discrimination
    6. Sexual Orientation Discrimination

    Age Discrimination


    The AARP [http://www.aarp.org/money/careers/jobloss/Articles/a2004-04-28-agediscrimination.html]gives examples of the kinds of employer actions that can constitute age discrimination against workers aged 40+ (e.g. hiring a young worker as "new blood", firing older workers who make more money). The full text of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 is available at http://www.eeoc.gov/policy/adea.html . Organizations that can offer advice or have informative websites include:


    Disability Discrimination

    Workplace Fairness [http://www.workplacefairness.org/disability] has an extensive discussion of what employers can and cannot do, and what constitutes "reasonable accommodation". The full text of The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, Titles I and V is online at http://www.eeoc.gov/policy/ada.html. Helpful organizations specializing in these issues include:


    Gender Discrimination

    Here too, Workplace Fairness [http://www.workplacefairness.org/sexgender] has very helpful examples of gender/sex discrimination and what the rules are. Helpful organizations specializing in these issues include:

    Note: The EEOC has a special section of its website related to discrimination against pregnant women (and About.com also has material on that issue).


    Racial and Ethnic Origin Discrimination

    Nolo.com, provider of legal self-help advice and forms, has a good overview article on workplace issues related to race and national origin. Helpful organizations specializing in these issues include:


    Religious Discrimination

    In addition to our standard recommendations of Workplace Fairness and the ACLU, The Alliance for Magical and Earth Religions (AMER) wrote a helpful-looking overview "Religious Harassment in the Workplace" that's been widely reprinted, e.g. http://www.religioustolerance.org/harra_wk.htm.


    Sexual Orientation Discrimination

    Although there are currently no federal laws protecting from discrimination based on sexual orientation some states have passed laws prohibiting it. In addition to information from Workplace Fairness and Nolo Press, helpful organizations specializing in these issues include:

  29. Can you help me get money my employer (current or former) owes me?

  30. Disputes between employees and their bosses are not exactly uncommon, and Fairness.com receives a good number of complaints about such situations. We have no lawyers on staff, so nothing here should be taken as legal advice... but we've gathered a number of pointers to other sites that should be a good starting point for anyone who needs to understand their rights and how things are supposed to work. If you know of good, authoritative resources we've overlooked please contact us (and refer to the URL of this page).

    For each category of complaint below we start with a link to the Department of Labor (DOL) overview page for that category; The DOL is the US federal agency whose regulations govern most workplace disputes. State and occasionally even local regulations can be relevant to some situations too; the DOL's site has links to each state's corresponding agency). The DOL website provides the definitive definitions of the laws; its Handy Reference Guide to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) can answer many basic questions. Some rules apply differently to salaried employees (workers paid a specified amount regardless of how many actual hours are worked) versus employees paid a fixed hourly rate.

    An important department within DOL is the Wage and Hour Division (WHD): "The Wage and Hour Division (WHD) is responsible for administering and enforcing some of our nation?s most comprehensive labor laws, including: the minimum wage, overtime, and child labor provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA); the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA); the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act (MSPA); worker protections provided in several temporary visa programs; and the prevailing wage requirements of the Davis-Bacon Act (DBA) and the Service Contract Act (SCA)."

    Other sites can be helpful in explaining those rules without too much legalese and giving practical suggestions for resolving disputes. A few reputable sites that cover almost all the topics below are:

    Pension (and other benefit) issues are complex and beyond the scope of this resource list. Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) is the body of laws covering employers' obligations for managing and paying retirement benefits.

    Here are some links to information sources about common problem issues:

      Agricultural Work
      • Farmworkers are exempt from the normal FLSA overtime regulations, but any other information about their special status (if any) seems to be buried in the regulations themselves. The DOL also publishes Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection.
      • The Department of Agriculture (USDA) publishes regulations about farm work and offers some links to sites with Worker Safety information.
      • The United Farm Workers (UFW) union has been successfully working for farm worker rights for decades. We didn't find the simple overview of agricultural laws on its website that we hoped to find, but the organization should be a good information source to contact directly.
      • Another possible source for assistance is National Farm Worker Ministry (NFWM), "an interfaith organization that supports farm workers as they organize for empowerment, justice, and equality."

      Back Pay (payment not yet received for work done)
      Commissions (wages paid dependent on sales)
      Garnishment (a court order requiring an employer to withhold wages)
      Hazard Pay (pay for performing dangerous work or work involving physical hardship)
      • The Department of Labor notes that "The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not address the subject of hazard pay, except to require that it be included as part of a federal employee's regular rate of pay in computing the employee's overtime pay."
      • The AFL-CIO's America@Work magazine gives a union perspective on some key workplace hazards (e.g. asbestos, toxic emissions, hazardous wastes, grain dust, mine safety, field sanitation, bloodborne pathogens, ergonomic issues) and what federal agencies are, or are not, doing to protect workers from them.

      Holiday Pay (paid time off work for national or personal holidays)
      • The Department of Labor doesn't regulate holiday pay: "The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not require payment for time not worked, such as vacations or holidays (federal or otherwise). These benefits are generally a matter of agreement between an employer and an employee (or the employee's representative)."
      • About.com offers answers to Frequently Asked Questions about holiday pay and related issues (e.g. discrimination issues about different policies for different religions).

      Industrial Homework (per-item payment for "piecework" goods produced at a worker's residence)
      Last Pay Check
      • The Department of Labor notes that some states require that the final pay check be given immediately when an employee leaves on the last day; otherwise it's due to the departing employee by the normal payday for the last pay period worked.
      • About.com has an article explaining final pay check regulations.

      Merit Pay (additional pay based on performance as perceived by the employer)
      • There are no federal regulations about this. The Department of Labor says: "Merit pay, also known as pay-for-performance, is defined as a raise in pay based on a set of criteria set by the employer. This usually involves the employer conducting a review meeting with the employee to discuss the employee's work performance during a certain time period. Merit pay is a matter between an employer and an employee (or the employee's representative)."

      Minimum Wage (for hourly workers)
      Overtime Pay
      • A short overview of the DOL laws with additional links is here; one of the links, Fact Sheet #23: Overtime Pay Requirements of the FLSA, will probably be more helpful. For most hourly employees, in most cases, overtime kicks in for hours worked in excess of 40 in a given workweek.
      • Salaried employees normally do not receive overtime pay, but there are circumstances where it may be due. The Crone & Mason law firm has a good deal of helpful information on its websites OvertimePaylaw.us and OvertimeScams.us for salaried workers (and hourly too) about overtime laws. A third website of theirs, StateOvertimeLaw.us, has links to relevant state laws.
      • Workplace Fairness also has answers to FAQs about overtime pay laws.

      Severance Pay (additional pay upon termination of employment)
      • The Department of Labor notes that "There is no requirement in the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) for severance pay. Severance pay is a matter of agreement between an employer and an employee...".
      • The Legal Aid Society - Employment Law Center describes some situations where employees are due severance (e.g. it was promised in an employment agreement or policy manual or is part of a waiver of rights).
      • The Wall Street Journal's Career Journal offers advice about negotiating a fair severance package.

      Subminimum wage (hourly employees)
      • The Department of Labor gives federal regulations about in certain groups that are exempt from the minimum wage requirement: "The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) provides for the employment of certain individuals at wage rates below the minimum wage. These individuals include student-learners (vocational education students), as well as full-time students employed by retail or service establishments, agriculture, or institutions of higher education. Also included are individuals whose earning or productive capacity is impaired by a physical or mental disability, including those related to age or injury, for the work to be performed."

      Tips (hourly employees)

      Note— The Department of Labor has a variety of Recordkeeping and Reporting regulations requiring employers to keep detailed records for hourly employees; these records are often highly relevant to workplace disputes.


  31. I served my time for a crime but am being discriminated against in applying for work and a place to live; what are my rights?

  32. Ex-offenders trying to re-enter society after incarceration face a variety of "legal roadblocks" that restrict their rights and opportunities in many areas of their lives (e.g. work, housing, voting). Some restrictions are only for a certain amount of time, but others are lifelong. Changes in the length and scope of these restrictions are often hotly debated by both those fighting for ex-offender rights (arguing that the ex-offenders have paid their debts to society and deserve the presumption of innocence as they try to rebuild their lives) and those fighting for victims' rights (and hoping to avoid future tragedies befalling other victims).

    Neither I nor anyone else at Fairness.com is an expert in ex-offender issues. Still, I've gathered some links to sites that offer helpful information and perspectives on the kinds of restrictions ex-offenders face. One particularly informative site that appears frequently in this list is http://www.lac.org/about.htmlThe Legal Action Center:

    The Legal Action Center is the only non-profit law and policy organization in the United States whose sole mission is to fight discrimination against people with histories of addiction, HIV/AIDS, or criminal records, and to advocate for sound public policies in these areas.

    For three decades, LAC has worked to combat the stigma and prejudice that keep these individuals out of the mainstream of society. The Legal Action Center is committed to helping people reclaim their lives, maintain their dignity, and participate fully in society as productive, responsible citizens.

    In 2004 the LAC issued AFTER PRISON: ROADBLOCKS TO REENTRY — A Report On State Legal Barriers Facing People With Criminal Records, "...an exhaustive, two-year study of legal obstacles that people with criminal records face when they attempt to reenter society and become productive, law-abiding citizens". For all the LAC links below its site gives summaries of each state's laws as well as get an overview of some different approaches taken by various states.

    • Access to Records
      • The Legal Action Center has information about ex-offender's access to their criminal Records.
      • The Legal Action Center has information about ex-offender's ability to obtain a drivers license. CenterForce, a California-oriented site, explains how an ex-offender can get his/her license in that state, but the information about what identification is needed should be helpful in other states too. Centerforce also lists phone numbers for every state from which ex-offenders can request birth certificate copies.

    • Education
      • The Legal Action Center has information about student loans for ex-offenders.
      • CenterForce has both local and national links about educational resources available to ex-offenders.

    • Employment
    • Housing
    • Parenting
    • Public Assistance
      • The Legal Action Center discusses federal and state restrictions on ex-offenders' access to public assistance (food stamps and similar programs).

    • Sex Offender Registries (unlike most other ex-offenders, sex offenders must continue to register their whereabouts with whatever state they are living in)

    • Voting
      • The Legal Action Center summarizes ex-offender voting laws.
      • The Center for Voting and Democracy is a site that seeks to expand voting rights for ex-offenders and also has links to other relevant articles on the subject.
      • The Sentencing Project gives statistics about the voting restrictions on ex-offenders as well as a list of states which have recently had policy changes.

    J. Liebenthal