Is Georgia a Right to Work State?

FT Contributor
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Georgia is a right-to-work state, which means that you do not have to join a union as a condition of your employment at a unionized company. It also means that your employer cannot stop you from joining a union if you choose to do so.

Georgia also has other labor-related laws that concern subjects such as civil rights, minimum wage, worker’s compensation, and workplace discrimination.

To ensure that your employer follows all necessary regulations, you should understand your rights as an employee or job seeker in Georgia.  

What Is Right to Work?

A right-to-work state is a state that follows the right-to-work principle. This principle says that employees have the right to work at any job without being compelled to join a labor union. In other words, union membership cannot be a condition for employment.

A right-to-work state allows unions; however, it requires that unions give workers the option to join rather than making membership a requirement. At the same time, an employer cannot take steps to keep an employee from joining a union.

A right-to-work state guarantees that union membership is not compulsory by disallowing union security agreements.

A union security agreement is a contract between a labor union and an employer. Such arrangements, which are usually part of a broader collective bargaining agreement, require that the employer make union membership a condition of employment.

Labor legislation is continually evolving, but currently, 28 states have right-to-work laws.

At-Will Employment

Right-to-work laws state that an employee must not be required to sign a union contract as a condition of employment. At-will employment involves the rights of employer and employee when there is no contract for a job.

At-will employees in Georgia work without a contract. However, without a written agreement, the employer can legally alter the terms of the job or terminate the employee for any reason. The at-will employee may likewise quit without notice.

You can avoid the pitfalls of at-will employment, namely the lack of job security and benefit guarantees, by getting a contract from your employer that includes a specific duration of the job.

Some states have laws that protect at-will employees from termination for specific reasons. For example, in Georgia, employees cannot get fired because of their race, religion, gender, or nation of origin. State laws also protect pregnant employees and those with disabilities from getting fired without cause.

Is Georgia a Right to Work State?

Georgia is a right-to-work state. You can get any job regardless of your union membership status, and the employer cannot require you to join a union as a condition of your employment. At the same time, a company cannot keep you from joining a union if you so choose.

When Can You Be Fired in Georgia?

You can get fired for a variety of reasons in Georgia.

  • You can get fired for breaking a company rule or not complying with company policy.
  • If you breach your contract, your employer can fire you. A breach may involve either a lack of performance or not complying with workplace behavior policies.  
  • If you do not have a contract and are an at-will employee, an employer can fire you for any reason. However, their motivation for the termination cannot involve the types of discrimination covered by Georgia’s civil rights laws.
  • If you do not perform your job as expected, a company can fire you.

If you live in Georgia, you cannot get fired for refusing to join a union, even if the other employees at your workplace are union members. In an at-will employment state that does not have a right-to-work law, you could potentially lose your job for refusing to join a union.

Other Georgia Labor Laws

In addition to laws and regulations related to right-to-work principles and at-will employment, Georgia has other labor laws that you need to be aware of if you work or are seeking employment in the state.

Georgia Minimum Wage

The minimum wage in Georgia is $5.15. However, the federal minimum wage for nonexempt jobs is $7.25. With a few exceptions, the federal minimum wage applies. For example, employers of tipped employees, sharecroppers, newspaper delivery carriers, and domestic workers do not have to abide by the minimum wage laws.

Child Labor Laws

Georgia has restrictions on the work schedules of employees who are under 16. Workers under the age of 16 cannot work more than four hours on a school day and no more than eight hours on a non-school day. Also, those under 16 cannot work before 6 am or after 9 pm. Also, workers under 16 cannot work during regular school hours.

Those under the age of 16 must abide by the schedule restrictions even if they do not attend school. Employees who are 16 or 17 years old have no restrictions related to work schedules in Georgia.

Georgia Civil Rights Laws

Georgia has civil rights laws related to employment. These laws, which protect employees from specific types of discrimination, still apply when it comes to at-will employment. It is illegal to dismiss an employee, even an at-will employee, if doing so infringes on their civil rights.

Georgia has a law called the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, which prohibits discrimination because of age. Companies cannot discriminate against job-seekers and employees between ages 40 and 70.

People with disabilities have employment protections under the Georgia Equal Employment for People With Disabilities Code and the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). These laws preserve the rights of employees and job-seekers with disabilities. The ADA also requires that companies make reasonable accommodations to allow people with disabilities to perform the essential functions of their job.

Georgia also has laws that make it illegal for employers to discriminate against qualified applicants or employers because of their race, gender, nation of origin, or religion. There is currently no law in Georgia that protects against discrimination because of sexual orientation. There is a law, however, that guarantees equal pay for employees who do the same job regardless of gender.

If you feel that an employer has violated your civil rights, you can file a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the Georgia Commission on Equal Opportunity.

Pregnancy Discrimination Act

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act requires that employees who are pregnant, give birth, or have a medical condition related to pregnancy or childbirth be given the same rights and benefits as employees who cannot work or who need special accommodations for another reason.

Unemployment Laws

Georgia’s Department of Labor makes decisions about unemployment benefits applications on a case-by-case basis. You need to meet specific criteria to apply for unemployment benefits. You need to have worked for two of the previous five quarters.

Also, you need to be unemployed through no fault of your own. If you got laid off or your employer ceased operations, you can qualify for unemployment.

If your employer fired you, you might still be able to qualify for unemployment benefits. On one hand, if your employer fired you for misconduct, you cannot, in most cases, get unemployment benefits. On the other hand, if you were unqualified for the job or could not handle the working conditions, you may still qualify for unemployment benefits.

In Georgia, you also need to prove that you can physically work and that you are actively seeking employment to get unemployment benefits.

Workers’ Compensation Laws

If you are injured on the job or become ill due to working conditions, you may qualify for workers’ compensation benefits. If you are injured, you need to file a notice of claim with the Georgia Board of Workers’ Compensation. You need to send a copy of the claim to your employer and their insurance provider as well.

If you miss more than a week of work because of your injury or illness, you can claim up to two-thirds of your weekly earnings.

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