Labor and employment laws are fundamental to maintaining a balanced relationship between employers and employees. These regulations serve to protect workers from unfair treatment, ensure fair compensation, and promote a safe working environment.
While there are overarching federal employment laws in the US, it's essential to note that specific provisions can vary from one state to another. In the state of Georgia, employment regulations are, in many instances, less stringent than their federal counterparts. This flexibility can be advantageous for businesses, but it doesn’t mean employers get a free pass from adherence to local laws.
For businesses operating or looking to expand to the Peach State, Rippling’s Professional Employer Organization service handles local tax registration and management, empowering businesses to grow faster.
Employment vs. labor law: What’s the difference?
While the terms "employment law" and "labor law" are often used interchangeably, they address distinct areas of work-related legal issues. The primary distinction lies in who is involved and the nature of the relationship under consideration. Employment law encompasses the relationship between employers and individual employees. Labor law centers on the relationship between employers and organized collective groups.
Here’s more detail on what falls under each category:
- Employment law covers wage and hour laws; discrimination and harassment in the workplace; employee benefits and leave policies; termination and severance; and workplace safety and health regulations.
- Labor law concerns the formation, operation, and regulation of unions; collective bargaining agreements; strikes and lockouts; union elections and representation; and regulation of union dues and finances.
Wages and hours in Georgia
Georgia’s state minimum wage laws are a bit unique. As you’ll see below, the Georgia minimum wage is well below the federal minimum wage. This means that Georgia’s minimum wage is, for the most part, unenforceable, even though it remains a part of the state law. This is one of the many areas where Georgia’s labor and employment laws are less strict than federal laws, and Georgia is, by default, allowing federal law to cover residents of the state.
Minimum wage in Georgia
Georgia’s minimum wage is $5.15 per hour for regular employees with exemptions for:
- Employers with sales under $40,000 per year
- Employers with five or fewer employees
- Employers of domestic employees
- Farm owners, sharecroppers, or land renters
- Tipped workers
- High school or college students
- Newspaper carriers
However, in most cases, workers who are exempt from Georgia’s minimum wage are covered under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). This means that almost anyone working in Georgia is subject to federal minimum wage law, which requires them to be paid $7.25 an hour.
Georgia also follows federal law that allows tipped employees to earn $2.13 an hour (as long as their tips plus hourly earnings amount to at least the minimum wage). Otherwise, their employer must make up the difference. Employees under 20 years of age can also be paid a “training wage” (known as a subminimum wage) of $4.25 an hour for the first 90 days of their employment or until they turn 20.
Rippling makes it easy to comply with minimum wage laws in different states—it automatically flags violations based on the state where an employee is located.
Overtime pay in Georgia
Georgia doesn’t have any state-specific overtime laws, so federal laws apply to workers in the state. That means any nonexempt employee working above 40 hours in a workweek is entitled to receive overtime pay. Overtime wage rates are equal to 1.5x the employee’s regular rate of pay for every hour worked over 40.
Rippling’s payroll software automatically applies the correct rates when an employee’s hours necessitate overtime pay.
Pay transparency in Georgia
Pay transparency laws are gaining steam in states across the US. They vary from state to state, but generally require employers to be transparent and equitable about sharing salary ranges and total compensation with job seekers and current employees.
Georgia has no statewide pay transparency laws. The city of Atlanta has a law, effective February 2019, that prohibits city agencies from asking for salary histories on job applications.
Rippling enforces compensation bands and automatically flags out-of-band adjustments, so you can approve or deny cases as needed.
Breaks and rest periods in Georgia
Employers are not required to provide any rest or meal breaks in Georgia. However, if they do choose to provide them, any breaks between five and 20 minutes long must be paid. Breaks longer than 30 minutes aren’t required to be paid unless the worker must remain at their work area during the break.
As of 2020, Georgia requires employers to provide breastfeeding employees with paid breaks to express milk at work. They must also be provided with a private area for pumping that is not a bathroom.
Leaves of absence in Georgia
Leave laws in Georgia are limited and only provide workers with unpaid leave (never paid leave) in limited circumstances. Here’s what you need to know.
Private employers in Georgia aren’t required to offer any time off for vacation, but if vacation benefits are offered, the employer must comply with their own employment contracts or policies.
Family and medical leave
Under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), employers with 50+ employees must let workers take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave each year to be used in the event of an illness, a major life event like the birth or adoption of a child, or to care for a sick or injured family member.
Under the federal Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), employees in Georgia can take up to six months off every four years for military training or service school—and should be fully reinstated to their position after returning from leave. The FMLA also allows for a maximum of 26 weeks of leave (unpaid) to care for a family member who has been seriously injured while performing military service.
Jury duty leave
Employees in Georgia cannot be penalized in any way for responding to a jury summons. They must be allowed to take unpaid leave for as long as necessary to perform their civic duty.
As long as they give reasonable notice to their employer, employees should be given time off to vote in Georgia. Their employer can, however, dictate the time they vote in order to minimize disruptions to the company.
Private employers aren’t required to offer holiday leave. Employees may be required to work on any public holiday, and they aren’t entitled to any premium pay rate unless their employer has a policy stating as much.
Pregnancy disability leave in Georgia
Georgia doesn’t have any specific state laws covering pregnancy disability, so it falls under the FMLA—which only applies to employers with 50+ employees.
Paid sick leave in Georgia
Private companies aren’t required to provide any sick leave, paid or unpaid, in Georgia. Qualifying employees can use the FMLA to take unpaid leave if they are too ill to work. In other cases, unemployment insurance and workers’ compensation can help cover workers who have to leave a job due to illness or injury.
With Rippling, you can fully customize and automate your leave policy—while having full visibility into how your employees are using it.
Workplace safety in Georgia
There are two main laws that concern workplace safety in Georgia.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is a federal law that covers most private employers and their workers across the US. OSHA sets standards for workers to have safe work environments by governing workplace hazards, such as:
- Biological hazards like mold and pests
- Chemical and dust hazards like pesticides and asbestos
- Safety hazards like slips and falls
- Physical hazards like noise, radiation, and extreme temperatures
- Ergonomic hazards like heavy lifting and repetitive motions
OSHA also requires all workplaces in Georgia to have a written Safety, Health, and Injury & Illness Prevention Plan (IIPP) program in place.
In addition to OSHA, Georgia also has the Smokefree Air Act of 2005, which prohibits smoking in any enclosed areas within places of employment.
Rippling PEO offers a convenient workers’ comp plan that lets you pay as you go instead of paying upfront for the whole year—so you can focus on scaling your business in Georgia and elsewhere in the US.
Discrimination and harassment laws in Georgia
In addition to federal anti-discrimination laws, Georgia has passed the following legislation:
- Georgia Fair Employment Practices Act of 1978: prohibits public employers with 15+ employees from discriminating based on color, race, religion, age, sex, national origin, or disability.
- Georgia Sex Discrimination in Employment Act of 1966: mimics the Equal Pay Act of 1963 by prohibiting discrimination between employees of the same establishment on the basis of sex and requiring equal compensation for comparable work.
- Georgia General Age Discrimination Law of 1971: prohibits discriminating against people between the ages of 40 and 70 on the basis of their age, especially when the position doesn't require an age distinction.
- Georgia Equal Employment for Persons with Disabilities Code of 1981: prohibits discriminating against people with disabilities concerning wages, pay rates, hours, or other terms of employment (unless the individual’s disability makes them unable to perform their job).
Georgia doesn’t have any state laws prohibiting harassment at work. But under the federal Civil Rights Act, anyone who works in a workplace with at least 15 employees has the right to a workplace free from harassment due to:
- National origin
- Sex (including pregnancy)
- Genetic information
Harassment can be verbal or physical and can include behaviors such as offensive jokes, name-calling, physical assault or threats, unwelcome sexual advances, intimidation, offensive objects or pictures, or anything else that interferes with job performance. General teasing, offhand comments, or one-time incidents don’t meet the legal requirements for harassment unless they are extremely serious.
Harassment can happen from anyone in the workplace, and employers are responsible for the behavior of their employees—even if they were unaware of any harassment taking place. If an employee is harassed and you don’t take appropriate action, you could be investigated by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and face serious penalties.
Sexual harassment training requirements are distinct from state to state, and Georgia doesn’t require any training for private companies—but it’s still good practice to educate your workforce to avoid potential problems down the road. Rippling’s Learning Management System comes pre-loaded with core sexual harassment courses to make sure all your employees understand federal and local laws around discrimination and harassment.
Unions in Georgia
A labor union is a group of employees who band together to act collectively. This includes bargaining for fair working conditions, higher wages, more time off, better benefits, and other demands. Under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), all employees across the US have the right to:
- Organize or join a union and negotiate with their employer
- Choose employee representatives and bargain collectively for contracts setting their work conditions
- Take action to improve their work conditions, including filing a complaint with their employer or the government, or striking and picketing under certain conditions
- Abstain from joining a union
The NLRA also makes it illegal for employers to fire employees or take any other adverse action against them (like bribing, demoting, or threatening them) if they join or support a union. Similarly, unions and their representatives can’t threaten employees with losing their jobs or take any other adverse action if they don’t support the union.
There’s also union-related legislation on the state level. For example, Georgia is a “right-to-work” state, which means no employer can require an employee to join a union in order to get or keep a job.
FAQs about Georgia labor and employment laws
Are independent contractors covered under Georgia employment laws?
It depends on the law. But generally, independent contractors are exempt from minimum wage and overtime laws and aren’t entitled to benefits or leave. Make sure you’re classifying your workers correctly with our free analyzer tool.
Does at-will employment exist in Georgia?
Yes, Georgia recognizes at-will employment, which means an employee can be terminated at any time, for any reason, without warning or cause. Similarly, an employee can quit without warning, notice, or reason.
What privacy rights do employees have in Georgia?
Georgia lags behind some other states (like California) when it comes to drafting and passing comprehensive legislation to protect workers’ privacy. However, employees still have limited privacy rights in Georgia—namely, protection from intrusion on seclusion, public disclosure of private facts, false light privacy, and appropriation of their name or likeness.
Are background checks legal in Georgia?
Background checks are legal and common in Georgia, with a few caveats. Employers can’t ask about a job applicant’s criminal history in the initial phase of the hiring process. Additionally, job applicants must provide their signed consent before a criminal background check is conducted; arrests or charges that did not result in a conviction should not be disclosed.
Are whistleblowers protected in Georgia?
Yes. Under Georgia law, a public employer (or any local or regional government agency) must investigate complaints from a public employee about fraudulent behavior, abuse at work, or waste.
Is workers’ compensation coverage required in Georgia?
Workers’ compensation coverage is required for every employer with three or more employees.
Are there required healthcare benefits in Georgia?
Under federal law, employers with 50+ full-time or full-time equivalent employees are required to provide healthcare benefits.
Are Georgia employers required to provide bereavement leave?
Georgia employers aren’t required to provide paid or unpaid bereavement leave.
What employee protections are available in Georgia if layoffs occur?
If a business is covered by the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act, employees have the right to 60 days’ notice before mass layoffs. The Georgia Department of Labor administers the state’s unemployment benefits, which provide income to workers who lose their jobs (without being at fault).
What child labor laws exist in Georgia?
Georgia, like many other US states, has child labor laws that restrict work hours and industries for minors in the state. Children cannot work in industries like mining, logging, roofing, and operating certain types of heavy machinery. Minors under 16 can’t work during school hours, and those ages 16-17 can only work during school hours if they have a permit.
Disclaimer: Rippling and its affiliates do not provide tax, accounting, or legal advice. This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, tax, legal, or accounting advice. You should consult your own tax, legal, and accounting advisors before engaging in any related activities or transactions.