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Do U.S. employment laws apply to U.S. citizens working abroad?

Federal U.S. employment laws generally apply only to those employees who work in the United States or its territories. There are a few exceptions though, as the following four major U.S. employment laws have some application abroad:

  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
  • The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA).
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
  • The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA).

USERRA's extraterritoriality applies only to veterans and reservists working overseas for the federal government or a firm under U.S. control.

The ADA, ADEA and Title VII are more far reaching, covering all U.S. citizens who are either:

  • Employed outside the United States by a U.S. firm.
  • Employed outside the United States by a company under the control of a U.S. firm.

Non-U.S. citizens working outside the United States are not covered by these laws, even if they work for a U.S. firm; however non-U.S. citizens are generally covered by U.S. employment laws when they work within the United States and its territories. Each of the four laws contains an exemption if compliance with the U.S. law would cause a company to violate a law of the country in which it is located.

In determining whether a non-U.S. firm is under U.S. control, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission will review:

  • The degree of interrelated operations.
  • The extent of common management.
  • The degree of centralized control of labor relations, common ownership and financial control.
  • The place of incorporation.

It's worth noting that while the FLSA has no general extraterritorial applicability, at least one court has found that if a portion of a workweek was worked within a U.S. territory, then the FLSA would apply to that workweek (Wirtz v. Healy, 227 F. Supp. 123 (M.D. Ill. 1964)).

The EEOC provides guidance  on the extraterritorial application of U.S. nondiscrimination laws.


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