The primary goal of employment law is to reinforce the rights and duties of both the employers and their employees. Employment law is otherwise known as labor law, and it ensures that workers are safe and treated fairly. It also protects employers’ interests as well. Laws of this kind may come from federal and state constitutions, national legislation, administrative rules, and court opinions. Smaller agreements in the form of formally signed contracts between employer and employee may also be categorized under this law.
In the United States, the demand for labor laws goes as far back as the Industrial Revolution, a period when child and slave labor used to be commonly practiced. Workers toiled for countless hours and were subjected to dangerous conditions resulting in deaths and injuries without compensation. All these changed in the early 20th century when the first laws were passed to ensure that workers were properly compensated, had a proper working schedule, and were not subjected to life-threatening working conditions.
By the 1960s and 70s, employment conditions further improved following the legislation of anti-discriminatory laws and safety laws in the workplace. Today in the United States, employment issues revolve around the healthcare system as well as proper adjustment of pay regardless of gender.
Disputes that result in legal action often pertain to “wage and hour” violations. Federal law establishes the baseline to address these issues. In the meantime, other states have the freedom to pass laws on top of the set minimum requirements. For instance, the required minimum wage per hour set by federal law is $7.25. If a particular state has passed a law that establishes the minimum wage at $8.00 per hour, then all employers in that state must act in order to comply with the requirement.
The same “wage and hour” laws regulate overtime pay. There is no limit placed by the federal government on the number of hours employees may work each week, but exceeding 40 hours per week would require employers to pay not less than time and a half of the regular rate. There are also rules that regulate the working conditions and number of hours spent by workers under the age of 18, and special provisions are established for those working in the agricultural sector. Employers are also required by these laws to post notices and store basic payroll records.
Discrimination still is a problem that causes a lot of legal settlements regarding employment law. Since the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it has been illegal to treat workers differently based on their ethnicity, religion, gender, age, and disability. It is recommended to hire an attorney if one falls victim to employment discrimination as legal processes in this regard are quite detailed and complex. One such process is obtaining a Right-To-Sue letter from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
The “At Will” Presumption
Majority of state laws presume that employment relationships are done at will. In other words, either employee or employer has the right to terminate the relationship whenever necessary or for whatever reason. This can be dangerous for both parties and can be circumvented by stressing the fact that both entered into an employment contract, or have verbally stated promises in terms of how and when the established relationship would end. This dodgy presumption can also be ignored by courts using just one of the following applicable exceptions.
The most common form of exception to the “at will” presumption is based on matters of public policy. Employers cannot fire workers if they have discriminatory reasons, as stated in the discussion above. They also cannot fire in retaliation for filing a worker’s compensation case, or when the worker divulges any form of illegal activity to the authorities, otherwise known as whistle blowing. Other states prevent employers from firing their workers in bad faith, like to avoid paying the worker his or her bonus or other benefits.
It is mandatory that the employment relationship be established through clearly written and detailed contracts. Clauses should include period of employment, compensation, disciplinary procedures, reasons for termination, and others. It is advisable for employers to have a legal department to properly come up with detailed documents like handbooks so new employees will have a clear understanding of the company’s terms and conditions.
As long as the created contract is legal, it can serve as clear evidence against the “at will” presumption. Furthermore, contract terms are not limited to documented clauses, but they can also be based on implication, oral assurances and conduct. It is the court’s duty to properly dissect and shed some light on written employment clauses during legal settlements. One form of clause is the non-compete clause. Following resignation or firing, an employee is prohibited from engaging in the same trade in the same market or geographical area for a specific period of time. There are also restrictions against sharing of trade secrets with direct competitors. Employment attorneys regularly take legal action on these matters.
There are several other important legal issues that can possibly arise from the workplace. These are not just limited to the examples stated above. This is one of the main reasons why general practice attorneys have decided to specialize in labor law. This allows them to focus on areas such as unemployment insurance claims, compensation, sexual harassment, and compliance issues under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Therefore, it is highly recommended for anyone involved in an employment dispute to find the right attorney with sufficient experience in such a field.