Federal employment laws typically apply only to workers who are employed in the United States or its territories. Employees who work overseas must generally rely on the employment laws of the country or region in which they work.
However, there are exceptions for U.S. citizens who work abroad and are employed by New York companies or those controlled by U.S. firms.
Several major U.S. discrimination laws apply
The primary federal employment laws applicable to U.S. citizens working in other countries include:
- Title VII of the U.S. Civil Rights Act: Title VII prohibits discrimination based on race, sex, religion, color, national origin, and pregnancy.
- Age Discrimination in Employment Act: The ADEA forbids discrimination based on age against workers and applicants over the age of 40.
- Americans with Disabilities Act: The ADA prohibits discrimination against employees on the basis of a real or perceived disability.
- Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act: The USERRA applies only to reservists and veterans working overseas for the federal government or firms under U.S. control.
Most employment laws do not or may not apply
The laws listed above contain specific language protecting some U.S. citizens who work abroad. However, most employment laws either contain no protections for overseas employees or are unclear over whether protections exist, including:
- Equal Pay Act: The EPA prohibits employers from paying lower wages to similarly qualified workers based on gender. This law applies only inside the U.S.
- Fair Labor Standards Act: The FLSA provides certain basic protections for workers , such as minimum and overtime wages. It generally does not apply to work performed abroad unless the employee person performed work both in the U.S. and abroad in the same workweek.
- Family and Medical Leave Act: The FLMA requires certain employers to provide eligible workers with 12 weeks of unpaid leave for serious health matters afflicting them or their family members. The law contains no reference to workers in another country, who are routinely considered ineligible.
- Occupational Safety and Health Act: OSHA rules only apply to workplaces inside the United States and its territories.
New York laws only apply to employees who live or work in New York
Laws that are specific to New York, including the New York State Human Rights Law, the New York City Human Rights Law, and the New York Labor Law, only cover employees who reside or perform their work in New York. An employee who works for a New York company but is based overseas, or even in another state, typically cannot seek the protections afforded under New York law.
Federal workplace protections outside the U.S. can be murky
U.S. labor laws are complicated and can clash with employment rules and practices in other countries. It is advisable to check your employment agreement or employee handbook to see whether U.S. employment and discrimination statutes have been incorporated or whether certain treaties exist that may apply federal or local employment laws to your employment.