Given the current state of U.S. law, many individuals are confused by which set of law carries in any given situation, state or federal. This can cause significant issues in the area of employment law, given the complex interplay between the two bodies of law (as well as any international provisions that may apply, depending on the job). Understanding the differences between state and federal laws can help eliminate confusion and procedural problems if you experience issues with your employer.
Areas Where Laws Contradict Each Other
In many areas, federal law simply fills a void where no settled state law exists. For example, South Carolina has no overtime laws currently on the books, so the federal law sets the appropriate method of compensating overtime pay. There are multiple examples of this, including regulations surrounding meals and breaks for full-time employees, and severance pay (or lack thereof).
Another example is certain types of anti-discrimination laws. South Carolina laws are narrower than the federal regulations, which cover many varied groups of people – for example, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) states that discrimination on the basis of one’s genetic information is unlawful. South Carolina law does not address this. The EEOC has also issued several advisory rulings stating that discrimination against transgender people constitutes sex discrimination, while South Carolina law has not discussed this issue at all as of this writing.
Federal Law Presides Over State Law
In areas where the laws may conflict, federal law generally rules. The reason for this lies in the Constitution. Article VI, Paragraph 2 of the United States Constitution states that federal law shall be the “supreme law of the land.” From a procedural standpoint, this is practical – one set of federal laws are much simpler to maintain than the many different laws determined by the individual states. So if South Carolina makes a law that conflicts with federal law in any respect, that law will almost certainly be ruled invalid, because the Constitution mandates federal supremacy.
However, there are rare exceptions to this doctrine. Sometimes, state law will supplant federal law when it provides more rights to the people affected, and/or higher standards for employers to follow. Minimum wage is an excellent example of this; if a state has a law setting the minimum wage at $6.50 per hour, for example, the federal law mandating that it be set at $7.25 will trump the state regulation, because it provides greater benefit to the employee and a higher standard for the employer to follow.
Seek Experienced Assistance
Generally, one can safely assume that federal employment law will reign supreme if there is a conflict. However, it can still be difficult to determine whether or not a conflict exists. A legal professional can be of help in many cases. Attorney A. Christopher Potts of Hitchcock & Potts is happy to help answer questions about an area of law that can be very confusing at a time when clarity matters. Contact our Charleston employment law attorneys at 843-577-5000 (toll free) or on our website to set up an initial consultation.