Labor and Employment Law Overview: Georgia

Labor and Employment Law Overview requirements for other states

Federal law and guidance on this subject should be reviewed together with this section.

Author: XpertHR Editorial Team

Summary

  • State law prohibits an employer from discriminating against employees in a variety of protected classes. See EEO, Diversity and Employee Relations.
  • Under the Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act a covered Georgia employer must use the Electronic Verification System to confirm a new hire's legal work status. See Recruiting and Hiring.
  • Georgia's minimum wage rate is lower than the federal minimum wage. See Wage and Hour.
  • Georgia has a "mini-COBRA" law requiring covered employers to offer COBRA continuation coverage. See Pay and Benefits.
  • Under Georgia law, employees are entitled to certain leaves including time off for jury duty and voting. See Attendance and Leave.
  • Georgia's Smokefree Air Act prohibits smoking in enclosed areas within places of employment. See Health and Safety.

Introduction to Employment Law in Georgia

Georgia is generally considered an employer-friendly state.

Select Georgia employment requirements are summarized below to help an employer understand the range of employment laws affecting the employer-employee relationship in the state. An employer must comply with both federal and state law.

An employer must also comply with applicable municipal law obligations affecting the employment relationship, in addition to complying with state and federal requirements.

EEO, Diversity and Employee Relations

Key Georgia requirements impacting EEO, diversity and employee relations are:

Equal Pay Equal Work Act

Under the Georgia Equal Pay Equal Work Act (EPEWA), also known as the Sex Discrimination in Employment Act, an employer with 10 or more employees must pay the same wage rate to both males and females for equal work in jobs that:

  • Require equal skill, effort and responsibility; and
  • Are performed under similar working conditions.

The EPEWA explicitly says that covered employers do not have to pay the same wage rate to both sexes if such payments are made under the following:

  • A seniority system;
  • A merit system;
  • A system that measures earnings by quantity or quality of production; or
  • A differential based on any factor other than sex.

Equal Employment for Persons with Disabilities Code

Georgia's Equal Employment for Persons with Disabilities Code (Georgia Disability Code or GEEPDC) prohibits a covered employer from discriminating against any individual with a disability with respect to wages, rates of pay, hours or other terms and conditions of employment because of such person's disability, unless the disability restricts that individual's ability to engage in the particular job or occupation.

The Georgia Disability Code defines employer as a person (or governmental unit or officer) in the state that employs 15 or more individuals, or any person acting as an agent of such an employer. Although both federal and Georgia law require that an employer has 15 employees to be covered, there is a clear difference in the language of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Georgia Disability Code. The ADA requires the employer to have 15 or more employees for each working day, whereas the Georgia Disability Code merely requires an employer to have 15 or more employees in its employ.

In contrast to the ADA, the Georgia Disability Code does not require any accommodation of an individual's disability.

Common Day of Rest Act

The Common Day of Rest Act (CDRA) is intended to promote each individual's health, recreation, welfare and religious freedom. Under the CDRA, if an employer operates a business on Saturday or Sunday (subject to limited exceptions, e.g., agricultural operations, healing arts businesses) and has an employee who has a typical day of worship on those work days, and the employee is scheduled to work, the employer must try and make a reasonable accommodation for the employee's religious, social and physical needs so that the employee has the same benefits as employees in other jobs.

Age Discrimination in Employment

Under Georgia law, an employer may not refuse to hire, employ, license an individual or terminate an individual from employment, based solely upon the individual's age, when the reasonable demands of the position do not require such an age distinction and the individual is qualified physically, mentally and by training or experience to satisfactorily perform the work.

Individuals age 40-70 are protected under the law.

Haleigh's Hope Act

The Haleigh's Hope Act allows the prescription, use and possession of 20 fluid ounces or less of THC oil by registered patients suffering from the following conditions:

  • Cancer;
  • ALS;
  • Seizure disorders related to epilepsy or trauma-related head injuries;
  • Crohn's disease;
  • Mitochondrial disease; and
  • Severe or end-stage multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease or sickle cell disease.

The law does not require an employer to permit or accommodate the use, consumption or possession of marijuana in any form. In addition, the law does not affect an employer's ability to adopt or maintain a zero-tolerance policy prohibiting on- and off-duty marijuana use and/or prohibiting an employee from having a detectable amount of marijuana in his or her system while at work.

Right-to-Work Protection for Employees

Georgia is a right-to-work state, so employees in Georgia cannot be required to join or pay dues to a union. An employer may not negotiate any collective bargaining agreement that contradicts the right-to-work provisions.

Be aware that where there is overlap between federal, state and/or local law, complying with the law that offers the greatest rights or benefits to the employee will generally apply.

Additional information on EEO, diversity and employee relations practices in Georgia can be found in the Georgia Employee Handbook Table of Contents, Disabilities (ADA): Georgia, EEO - Discrimination: Georgia, EEO - Retaliation: Georgia, Union Organization and Labor Relations: Georgia, Georgia Workplace Labor and Employment Law Posters and Does This Law Apply to My Organization in Georgia? Federal requirements can be found in Disabilities (ADA): Federal, EEO - Discrimination: Federal, EEO - Retaliation: Federal and Union Organization and Labor Relations: Georgia.

Recruiting and Hiring

Criminal History

Under Georgia law, an employer may generally base an employment decision on an applicant or employee's criminal record. An employer may obtain criminal history information with written consent of the party being investigated from the Georgia Crime Information Center (GCIC).

If an employer makes an adverse employment decision based on such records, the employer must do the following:

  • Inform the affected person that a record was obtained from the center;
  • Reveal the specific contents of the record; and
  • Explain the effect the record had upon the decision.

Failure to provide such information is a misdemeanor.

Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act

Under the Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act (IIREA), a Georgia employer with more than 10 employees must register and use the Electronic Verification System (E-Verify) to confirm a new hire's legal work status (i.e., the new hire is authorized to work in the United States).

Be aware that where there is overlap between federal, state and/or local law, complying with the law that offers the greatest rights or benefits to the employee will generally apply.

Additional information on recruiting and hiring practices in Georgia can be found in Preemployment Screening and Testing: Georgia and Immigration, Form I-9 and Work Visas: Georgia. Federal requirements can be found in Preemployment Screening and Testing: Federal and Immigration, Form I-9 and Work Visas: Federal.

Wage and Hour

Key Georgia requirements impacting wages and hours are:

Minimum Wage

Georgia's minimum wage rate is $5.15 per hour. The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), however, requires employers to pay all nonexempt employees at least the federal minimum wage (currently $7.25 an hour) for all hours worked. Therefore, for most employers in Georgia the federal minimum wage requirements apply.

The following employers are exempt from coverage:

  • Employers that have annual sales of $40,000 or less;
  • Employers that employ five or fewer employees;
  • Employers that solely employ domestic employees; or
  • Farm owners, sharecroppers or land renters.

The Georgia Commissioner of Labor can approve a lower minimum wage for reasons of public policy to allow certain persons with disabilities, and others who cannot otherwise compete effectively in the labor market, to be employed.

Breastfeeding Breaks

Georgia law encourages but does not require employers to provide reasonable unpaid break time each day to an employee who needs to express breast milk for her infant child. An employer should make reasonable efforts to provide a room or other location (in close proximity to the work area), other than a toilet stall, where the employee can express her milk in privacy.

Because Georgia law is written in permissive terms (i.e., "may" instead of "must") it appears to impose no enforceable obligations on Georgia employers. However, providing a lactation accommodation may help a new mother return to the workplace more quickly.

Child Labor

Minors between the ages of 12 and 16 may not work in certain occupations, industries or locations. Before hiring a minor to work in Georgia, an employer must obtain a work certificate from the school superintendent or other authorized person for each job.

Be aware that where there is overlap between federal, state and/or local law, complying with the law that offers the greatest rights or benefits to the employee will generally apply.

Additional information on wage and hour practices in Georgia can be found in Georgia Employee Handbook: Table of Contents, Minimum Wage: Georgia, Hours Worked: Georgia, Child Labor: Georgia, Georgia Workplace Labor and Employment Law Posters and Does This Law Apply to My Organization in Georgia?. Federal requirements can be found in Minimum Wage: Federal, Overtime: Federal and Child Labor: Federal.

Pay and Benefits

Unemployment Compensation

Georgia's unemployment compensation law provides temporary income to replace a portion of an able-bodied worker's wages who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own. Employers pay for the program through state and federal tax assessments (i.e., contributions) based on the employer's experience rating. The fewer the number of former employees who have been paid unemployment compensation benefits, the lower the employer's experience rating is.

An employer is subject to the unemployment compensation law if, in the current or preceding year, it paid a certain amount of wages for service in employment in any calendar quarter or employed at least one individual for some portion of each day in each of 20 different calendar weeks. Different requirements apply to employers paying for domestic service and agricultural labor; religious, charitable, educational or other organizations; and government entities.

"Mini-COBRA" Requirements

Georgia has a "mini-COBRA" law requiring employers with fewer than 20 employees to offer COBRA continuation coverage. Continuation coverage lasts for the remaining days in the month that the employee loses coverage plus three more full months. Employers are required to extend continuation coverage to employees and their covered dependents whose coverage terminates if the employee and their covered dependents have been continuously covered under the policy for at least six months. If the employee is terminated "for cause," the employer does not have to offer COBRA continuation coverage under the Georgia law.

Be aware that where there is overlap between federal, state and/or local law, complying with the law that offers the greatest rights or benefits to the employee will generally apply.

Additional information on pay and benefits practices in Georgia can be found in Legally Required Benefits: Georgia and Health Care Continuation (COBRA): Georgia. Federal requirements can be found in Legally Required Benefits: Federal and Health Care Continuation (COBRA): Federal.

Attendance and Leave

Georgia has a few laws relating to required leaves for employees, which mainly cover all employers. These laws include:

  • Jury duty and witness leave;
  • Military leave; and
  • Voting leave.

Be aware that where there is overlap between federal, state and/or local law, complying with the law that offers the greatest rights or benefits to the employee will generally apply.

Additional information on attendance and leave practices in Arkansas can be found in the Georgia Employee Handbook Table of Contents, Jury Duty: Georgia, USERRA: Georgia and Other Leaves: Georgia. Federal requirements can be found in Jury Duty: Federal, USERRA: Federal and Other Leaves: Federal.

Health and Safety

Weapons in the Workplace

Georgia law allows individuals who are Georgia residents and who lawfully possess a concealed weapon to store weapons (including firearms) in their locked, personal vehicle. An employer may not search an employee's car or condition employment on an agreement for an employee not to store a licensed firearm in a locked vehicle.

Certain types of parking lots are exempt from the law, including: a secure parking lot provided by the employer with restricted public access (e.g. use of a gate, security officers, etc.) where the employer performs uniformed and frequent searches upon entry; jails; electric utilities; certain United States Department of Defense contractors; employers with parking lots next to facilities providing natural gas, liquid petroleum, water storage and vital law enforcement services; and employers that are the private property owner of the parking lot facility.

Smokefree Air Act

Georgia's Smokefree Air Act prohibits smoking in enclosed areas within places of employment. However, indoor smoking areas may be established for employees in locations that are nonwork areas and maintain an independent air handling system. There are also exemptions from the smoking ban for common work areas, conference and meeting rooms and private offices in private places of employment where the public is allowed by appointment only.

Certain employers do not have to comply with the Smoke Free Air Act, for example, retail tobacco stores and tobacco manufacturing plans (subject to restrictions), certain bars and restaurants, long-term care facilities and employers who use their private residence (except when used as a licensed childcare, adult daycare or health care facility).

Georgia Workers' Compensation Act

The Georgia Workers' Compensation Act (GWCA) requires that every employer, individual, firm, association or corporation regularly employing three or more persons, part-time or full-time, must provide workers' compensation insurance coverage, with limited exceptions. If an employee is properly covered by workers' compensation insurance, he or she must be able to demonstrate an injury that qualifies for benefits.

See Georgia Employee Handbook: Table of Contents, Georgia Workplace Labor and Employment Law Posters, Employee Health: Georgia, Workplace Security: Georgia and Workers' Compensation: Georgia. Federal requirements can be found in Employee Health: Federal, Workplace Security: Federal and Workers' Compensation: Federal.