Guide to Labor Law
What is Employment Law?
Employment law governs the rights and duties between employers and workers. Also referred to as labor law, these rules are primarily designed to keep workers safe and make sure they are treated fairly, although laws are in place to protect employers' interests as well. Employment laws are based on federal and state constitutions, legislation, administrative rules, and court opinions. A particular employment relationship may also be governed by contract.
American labor laws trace back to public outcry against the oppressive practices of the industrial revolution. In the early 20th century, the first laws were passed to compensate injured workers, establish a minimum wage, create a standard work week, and outlaw child labor. In the 1960s and ‘70s, Congress acted to prohibit discrimination and unsafe work conditions. Current issues involve employee healthcare and equal pay for men and women.
Many of the employment disputes that result in litigation deal with "wage and hour" violations. Federal law establishes baseline rules with respect to these issues, and then states are free to pass laws providing additional protections. For example, federal law requires a minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. Several states have approved a higher minimum wage, and employers in those states must comply.
Wage and hour laws also regulate overtime pay. The federal government does not place limits on the number of hours adults may work per week, but after 40 hours time and a half must be paid. Rules exist to control the hours and working conditions for workers under age 18, with special provisions for those working in the agricultural sector. In addition, these laws require employers to post notices and keep basic payroll records.
Discrimination in the workplace is another basis for many employment law cases. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and subsequent legislation makes it illegal to treat workers differently based on ethnicity, religious beliefs, gender, age, or disability. Hiring an attorney to pursue a discrimination claim is recommended, as detailed procedures must be followed, such as obtaining a Right-To-Sue letter from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
The "At Will" Presumption
In nearly every state, the law presumes that employment relationships are at will. That is to say, employers and employees are free to terminate the relationship at any time and for any reason. This presumption can be overcome by showing the parties entered into an employment contract or made other promises regarding when and how the relationship would end. Courts will also ignore the at will presumption when one of several exceptions applies.
The most common exceptions involve matters of public policy. For example, employers cannot fire workers for discriminatory reasons. Likewise, they cannot fire an employee in retaliation for filing a worker's compensation claim, or for disclosing a violation of law to the authorities (whistle blowing). A minority of states also prohibit employers from terminating employees in bad faith, such as firing a worker to avoid paying a bonus or other benefit.
As mentioned, employers and workers may enter into employment contracts. Such contracts can describe the length of employment, compensation, disciplinary procedures, reasons for termination, and so forth. As long as the contract is otherwise legal, it will be enforced in lieu of the at will doctrine. Moreover, contract terms can be created by implication, based on oral assurances and other conduct, even in the absence of a written document.
In cases involving an employment contract, courts are often called upon to interpret the meaning of specific clauses. Promises not to compete are one example. These clauses prevent former employees from engaging in the same trade in the same market or geographical area. Restrictions against disclosing trade secrets are another example. Employment attorneys routinely litigate these types of issues.
A number of other workplace matters can arise in employment law cases. This has led attorneys who restrict their practices to labor law to further specialize in areas such as unemployment insurance claims, worker's compensation, sexual harassment, and compliance issues involving the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). For those involved in an employment dispute, finding an attorney with the right training can make all the difference.
Employment - Know Your Rights!
- A Guide To Guide to Employment Law
Employment laws are based on federal and state constitutions as well as legislation and court opinions. Disputes involving employment often deal with wage and hour violations, workplace discrimination, workplace sexual harassment, or discrimination during the firing or hiring process. In our comprehensive guide, learn more about employment law and what a lawyer may be able to do for you.
- Are Same-Sex Couples Entitled to Share Employment Benefits?
Traditionally, one benefit of marriage was being able to share in a spouse's employment benefits, like health, vision, and dental insurance. Unfortunately, many same-sex couples have struggled for years to receive the same level of benefits and even the right to be married. With more and more jurisdictions recognizing same-sex marriages, are employers now required to provide same-sex couples with the same level of benefits as heterosexual couples?
- Are Sexual Harassment Investigations Confidential?
An all too common occurrence in the modern workplace is the sexual harassment. This can take many forms, like unwelcome sexual or romantic advances, sexual blackmail, offensive touching, discussions of intimate activities that make others uncomfortable, etc. While there are a number of laws to protect those who complain of such activities, what of those who are accused, particularly if the sexual harassment claim is determined to be unfounded or used as a means of embarrassment or retaliation?
- Can I Be Fired for Lying on My Job Application?
- Can I Be Fired for Missing One Day of Work?
- Can You Fire Someone For Their Social Media Complaints About Work?
Social media is everywhere today; from Facebook to Twitter to LinkedIn, it would be almost impossible for an employer not to have someone working for them that has some form of social media presence. While you might be able to keep an employee from updating their Facebook status from the office, can you do anything about what they say or do about you or your company on their social media in their own time? Indeed, can you fire someone for their social media complaints about work?
- Habitually Absent, Tardy, or Sick? How to Deal with Employees Who Are Not Coming to Work
Do you have a trouble employee that can never seem to make it to work when they are supposed to? Either they are always late or they are not there at all? How should you go about disciplining this employee, particularly if you have let it slide in the past? Is there any risk to firing someone for claiming too much sick time (even if they are entitled to those days under the terms of their employment)?
- How to Deal with Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
Sexual harassment is usually defined by Courts and employers using the definition of sexual harassment contained in the guidelines of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). This language has also formed the basis for most state laws prohibiting sexual harassment.
- My Employer Didn't Pay Me, Now What?
Employment law can be confusing and it can be difficult to learn what your rights are and what you are entitled to. When an employer does not pay for something (whether regular wages, overtime, tip splitting, reimbursements, or something else) it can be very frightening and confusing. Is the employer right? Should I even bother fighting?
- What Are America's Child Labor Laws?
It is often a coming of age event: getting that first job, usually to pay for something irresponsible like a sports car or a video game. But how old does one have to be to start working? How many hours can they work every day and week? Who gets to control the money (i.e., the child or the parents)?
- What Are America's Minimum Wage Laws?
The United States has statutory minimum wage laws intended to ensure that even the least skilled of workers are able to earn enough money on which to live. As of July 2009, the federal minimum wage was set to $7.25 per hour, which equates to weekly earnings of just $290 per week (before taxes) for a full time job. However, many feel this number has not kept up with inflation and that this number is no longer a livable figure.
- What Do I Need to Know About A Non-Compete Agreement?
Many have been asked to sign non-compete agreements or thought they might be a good idea to protect their business interests when hiring someone. But, what do they do? How are they enforced? What legal requirements do they have to follow?
Articles About Employment Law
- The Philadelphia Fair Workweek LawPhiladelphia is one of several cities that have passed “Fair Workweek” ordinances to bring some stability to workers’ schedules and lives.
- California Legislature Passes Caregiver Protection BillAssembly Bill 524 amends the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) to include "family caregiver" as a protected category under the law. “Family caregiver status” means “being a person who provides direct care to a spouse, child, parent, sibling, grandparent, grandchild, domestic partner, or, with respect to an existing employee, any individual previously identified by the employee as a “designated person” under Section 12945.2.”
- What to Expect During a Panel Qualified Medical Evaluation (PQME) or Agreed Medical Evaluation (AME)During a neutral medical-legal evaluation, known in the Workers' Comp arena as PQME or AME you are expected to undergo a lengthy (multiple hours) medical evaluation that includes an extensive physical evaluation of all plead body parts, review of your medical history, including but not limited to the industrial injury at issue, complete history of your employment and conditions surrounding your injury, and any other pertinent facts to the sequelae medical effects of the industrial injury.
- New Law Broadens Reach of California’s Non-Compete Restrictions to Those Signed Out of StateOn September 1, 2023, Governor Newsom signed Senate Bill (SB) 699, which enhances the current state law that voids contracts that restrain an employee from engaging in a lawful profession, trade, or business.
- Can I Record My Independent Medical Exam (IME) in Washington State? Yes!Work injury claimants must attend independent medical exams (IME) during their L&I claim. Historically, the Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) didn’t allow workers to record independent medical examinations.
- The New Jersey Conscientious Employee Protection Act: How It Protects YouThe New Jersey Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA) protects New Jersey employees from retaliation if they blow the whistle on their employer's illegal activity.
- What Does “Employer” Mean in The California Fair Employment and Housing Act?A recent case tasked the California Supreme Court with clarifying the meaning of the term “employer” as used in the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA).
- A Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for The Pregnant Workers Fairness ActThe EEOC is asking for public commentary to allow the general public to participate in the process and give valuable feedback.
- U.S. Export Controls and Nonimmigrant Visas: A Practical Guide for HR and C-Level ExecutivesThe nexus between U.S. export controls and nonimmigrant visas lies at the intersection of international commerce, national security, and immigration law. Employers hiring foreign nationals under specific visa categories must navigate complex regulatory landscapes to maintain compliance with both immigration laws and export controls. This article explores the importance of these considerations.
- Compelling Circumstances EAD sec. (c)(35): A Strategy to Protect Nonimmigrant Workers from Accruing Unlawful PresenceThe United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) published new guidelines on June 14, 2023, regarding the Compelling Circumstances Employment Authorization Document (EAD) under section (c)(35). This significant development has introduced a temporary relief strategy that could assist certain non-immigrant workers who face compelling circumstances, such as being laid off or facing other personal hardships.
- All Employment Law Articles