Work environment

Salaries, working hours and vacations

The U. S. was founded on the principle that good, honest, hard work is rewarded. Because of this work ethic, time is money and punctuality is highly appreciated. The culture and geographic location of an area influences the way business is done.

Traditionally, the East Coast is more conservative and formal in terms of dress code and manners than the West Coast. But don’t think a meeting in California is not less important than one in New York. The climate and lifestyle are just more relaxed, which is reflected in the pace and informality.

Working hours and vacations

You can work full-time or part-time. Usually full-time means working for 40 hours per week. Part-time could be anything up to 30 hours per week. Traditional working hours in the U.S. are Monday to Friday from 9:00am to 6:00pm, with one hour for lunch and, usually, two breaks of 15 minutes.

However, about on third of Americans work longer than the standard 40-hour-week, and the higher you move up the career ladder, the more you are expected to work.

If you’re used to European holiday times, American holiday schemes may come as a nasty surprise. Most new employees receive just one or two weeks paid holiday per year, which is less than in any other industrial nation except Japan. As you continue working, your holidays are increased by one or two days every year, so it can take up to 10 years until you get four weeks of vacation per year. According to a UN study, the average American works some 250 hours more than a British worker, and 500 more than a German one.

If you feel that working is not all there is to life, don’t expect too much sympathy from your American colleagues. The biggest goal of many Americans is making money and, since time is money, it’s better not to spend it on anything other than making your fortune.

Job security & company rules

Job security is basically unheard of in the States. If your employer decides that they no longer need you, they are free to fire you. Your only security is your own potential and willingness to work – which either convinces your boss to keep you on and fire others, or enables you to find another job quickly.

Smoking is banned in working environments and nearly everywhere else, except outside and in your own home.

In the American work environment, diversity is also very important (at least in theory). Looking for a job, adverts will state “We are an equal opportunity employer offering competitive salaries and benefits in a professional work environment.” This means that, in the U.S., you will probably be working with various people from different backgrounds and cultures.

Salaries & other compensation

Salary is just one component of the overall job offer but, at least for Americans, it's usually the most important one. The cost of living in the U.S. can be very high, particularly in the big cities. However, salaries are usually also higher there.

Average salaries for workers range from $8 to $12 per hour (entry level) depending on the job title. The legal minimum salary is around $7 per hour in most states.

We know that salary is very important but it isn’t everything. Another important factor that you need to consider is the benefits plan. Most good companies have additional benefits for their employees, including bonus schemes, medical and dental insurance, vision-care, life insurance, disability insurance, retirement plan (401k), and accidental death and dismemberment (AD&D) benefits. Ask your employer about these.

Salaries and benefits packages vary according to the location of the job and market conditions. It is a good idea to be well-informed about the changing market conditions or other factors that might affect your salary and benefits. Analyze your particular situation before making a decision.

Workers Compensation

In the United States you have the right to a safe workplace. Workers compensation is insurance paid for by employers. It provides cash benefits and medical care if an employee becomes disabled due to work-related injury. In other words, workers compensation laws are designed to protect employees who are hurt on the job.

Companies with 4 or more employees (although this varies by state) are legally required to provide workers compensation insurance. If an employee is injured, the employee will file a claim with the workers compensation insurance company. Most laws require that you file a claim within 30 days of the accident. In general, workers compensation provides replacement income, medical expenses, and vocational rehabilitation benefits. Usually, workers compensation will pay you 2/3 of your salary while you are injured. You may also be eligible for life-long benefits or a lump sum payment if you are permanently hurt while on the job.

Further reading

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