Vail Daily column: Now that you’re 18 …
Editor’s note: This is the fourth part of six-part series.
In this part of this series, which focuses on the legal rights and responsibilities of turning 18, we focus on work and taxes. As with most aspects of turning 18 and being considered an adult for at least the majority of purposes, work and taxes have their up — and most decidedly down — sides.
As we’ve discussed previously in this series, 18 is the borderland between childhood and adulthood. In most respects, your legal obligations and liabilities are those of an adult, but you are yet not fully invested with every privilege that adulthood brings. Take, for example, the right to drink intoxicating beverages or the right to recreate with marijuana which are withheld until the age of 21.
As mentioned before, this series is intended to be general in nature and does not dwell upon the specifics of Colorado law. It is intended, instead, to summarize the law generally through these United States and to emphasize what is common among the majority of jurisdictions.
TIME TO GET A JOB
At age 18, you no longer need a special work permit to get a job. Neither, however, do the child labor laws continue to protect you against exploitation. Nonetheless, you continue to have certain rights as an employee and are held to certain responsibilities. In most cases, for example, you must be paid at least the minimum wage. Too, with some discrete exceptions, your employer must provide you with regular work breaks, pay you overtime for work beyond your normal hours of responsibility, pay worker’s compensation insurance and unemployment on your behalf and abide by certain workplace laws and regulations.
A work contract may be oral or written. While you can ask for a written employment agreement, or may be asked to sign one, most employment agreements are oral. Jobs, like life, generally come without warranties. There is no guarantee, no matter how good a job you do or how valuable you are to your employer, that you will keep your job. With few exceptions, an employer can dismiss an employee without providing any reason. You can be fired for any reason or no reason so long as it’s not for the wrong reason (for example, a “wrong reason” might be discrimination based upon race, creed, origin, marital status, sexual orientation, age or disability).
You may not be sexually harassed in the workplace. Sexual harassment is a form of illegal discrimination and is prohibited by federal and state laws. Unwelcome sexual behavior by a supervisor, co-worker or client can amount to sexual harassment. This may include: inappropriate touching; suggestive sexual comments; degrading drawings, photographs or posters; sexual jokes; and/or pressure for sexual favors. If you experience discrimination in the workplace — including sexual discrimination — you can contact your local Equal Employment Opportunity Commission office.
Your employer can deduct certain amounts from your paycheck. These include: federal, state and local tax withholdings; union dues (if any); any losses caused by your dishonesty, willful misconduct or gross negligence; and any specific deductions that you previously gave written authorization for the employer to make (such as retirement contribution withholdings).
FICA stands for the Federal Insurance Contributions Act which is the formal name for Social Security. FICA is a payroll tax that provides retirement, disability, and death benefits to workers. The employee pays half the premium and the employer pays the other half. FICA is non-elective. In other words, you cannot opt out of it and choose not to pay. For most U.S. citizens, FICA is collected based upon your social security number. Your employer is required to report your wages to the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) — the agency that collects federal taxes. You will still have to file your own state and federal tax returns which, for most folks, is due on April 15 of each year. If you overpaid your taxes during the year, you will get a refund. If you underpaid them, you will likely owe the government a check with your return. If you earn income in more than one state, you may owe state taxes in each such state in addition to your federal taxes.
Worker’s compensation insurance is insurance, paid for by employers, that provides compensation and medical benefits to workers who are injured on the job. Such insurance is also intended to cover workers who develop occupational diseases caused by their employment. It is not intended to replace a worker’s personal insurance. By law, employers must carry worker’s compensation insurance in an amount dictated by law. “Injured on the job” may, at times, be expansively interpreted and can include travel on account of work. You do not necessarily have to be injured at the usual place of your employment to be covered by worker’s compensation insurance so long as you were performing job-related services.
In the fifth part of this series, we will visit issues of sex, marriage, and partnership.
Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley with the law firm of Stevens, Littman, Biddision, Tharp and Weinberg LLC. His practice areas include business and commercial transactions, real estate and development, family law, custody, divorce and civil litigation. Robbins may be reached at 970-926-4461 or at either of his email addresses, firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.