Employment Labor Law

Under federal employment labor laws, employers have specific obligations to their employees. Employment laws are based on the Equal Pay Act and the Civil Rights Act, which protect employees from discrimination based on race, sex, religion, or national origin. If you're pursuing a Fair Labor Standard Act (FLSA) lawsuit, hire a labor law attorney to better understand your rights.

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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Written by Jeffrey Johnson
Insurance Lawyer Jeffrey Johnson

UPDATED: Jun 29, 2022

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  • Employment laws fall into one of five key categories, including equal pay rights, anti-discrimination laws, family medical leave laws, fair labor standards, and individual state laws
  • If you have been terminated unfairly, you may have grounds to file a claim against your employer
  • Having a labor attorney on your side can make a huge difference if you face discrimination in the workplace

Employment labor law covers a wide range of topics, from an employer’s obligation to employees, to how employees need to conduct themselves at work, and what expectations employees should have for termination. Read our guide now for employment and labor law examples and resources.

Whether you have faced discrimination in the workplace, feel you have grounds for a wrongful termination claim, or are involved in a class-action lawsuit against an employer, hire an affordable employment lawyer to protect your rights.

Use our free legal tool above to find an employment lawyer near you.

What are the five major kinds of employment laws?

In general, employment laws fall into five distinct categories. Scroll through this list of employment laws to learn more.

1. Equal Payment Rights

As of 1963, the passage of the Equal Pay Act means that women have the right to earn the same salary as men when they perform the same basic job duties. Failure to provide that equal payment can lead to discrimination charges against the business, which may end up having to pay out for the salary that a woman should receive.

However, it’s important to note that many factors can contribute to income discrepancies. While some are gender-based, others are simply the result of conditions within the average workplace.

For example, some employers have a clear variance in payment tiers due to changes in the actual job description and expectations. In other places, women may simply not know what their coworkers are making. Until they find out, they can’t approach their employer regarding fair pay.

Employment lawyers are familiar with state and federal laws that protect fair pay in the workplace. If your employer is violating an employee’s right to equal pay, an attorney can provide you the legal guidance you need to move forward with the investigation.

2. Anti-Discrimination Laws

According to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, employers cannot discriminate against employees on the basis of “race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” These laws ensure all employees the same rights when it comes time to find a job.

Employers cannot refuse to hire based on those factors, including obvious signs of the applicant’s religion or an applicant who identifies with a specific gender. They cannot treat them differently in the workplace, nor can they fire them for those factors. Hiring, firing, and payment practices cannot take these factors into consideration.

3. Medical Leave Laws

The Family Medical Leave Act applies to any employer with more than 50 employees and requires that each employee receive up to 12 weeks of medical leave during a 12-month period. Employees can take that leave because of their own health problems or because they need time off to care for a parent or child who has a serious health condition.

The Family Medical Leave Act also protects pregnant employees, who may need to take time off work to attend prenatal appointments or for bed rest in some cases. FMLA can even be used to cover the inability to work due to morning sickness that incapacitates the pregnant woman.

Employers cannot deny reasonable FMLA leave for approved reasons according to the law. They can, however, require the employee to fill out specific forms and paperwork before approving that leave.

FMLA does not guarantee paid leave for employees who have to be out of work. It does, however, ensure that employees’ jobs are protected during that period of leave. Firing an employee for taking FMLA leave could be considered an act of discrimination, and the employer may face reasonable consequences.

4. Fair Labor Requirements

Federal law sets out specific standards that employers must meet when dealing with their employees. Those standards can include several factors of employment. For example, federal law does specifically dictate a minimum wage that workers must make.

While those wages are different for servers and other tipped workers, those employees must also make at least minimum wage based on their tips. Employers are legally required to make up the difference.

Fair labor requirements also govern the definition of contractors versus employees, how employers have to handle overtime for contractual employees, and specific working conditions for your employees, including what safety measures you must take in order to reduce the risk of employee injury.

5. State-Specific Laws

In addition to the laws the federal government mandates for workers, many states have their own specific laws. Those laws could indicate specific break times that employees must be given or how long employees can work without a break, what minimum wage is in the specific state, or even specific standards for employees’ safety.

Understanding state laws can help keep employers from violating their employees’ rights and help employees ensure that their employers are meeting the minimum standards necessary to provide them with a safe, fair workplace.

If you have questions regarding the fair labor requirements in your state, get free legal advice from a local employment attorney to find out what you need to know.

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What is unfair or wrongful termination?

Unfair termination, also known as wrongful termination or wrongful dismissal, occurs when an employee’s termination breaches either one of the employment terms laid out in the employee’s contract or federal law that dictates requirements for termination.

How do I know if I’ve been fired without cause? Below are some of the most common cases of wrongful termination.

If you’ve been dismissed from an employer and aren’t sure of your rights, contact a local employment law firm to discuss you’re next best steps forward.

Were you terminated because of discrimination based on race, sex, or religion?

Most employees know if their employer has a problem with their race, religion, or sex. Often, employees face considerable discrimination in the workplace long before the employer moves toward termination.

Your employer may, for example, deliberately harass you in the workplace, creating an uncomfortable or hostile working environment, or may joke inappropriately. If you were terminated because of a specific attribute protected by the Civil Rights Act, you may have grounds for a wrongful termination claim against your employer.

Were you terminated in retaliation for an action you took after discrimination in the workplace or a hostile work environment?

As an employee, you have the right to pursue legal action for harassment, discrimination, or a hostile work environment. If you catch your employer breaking the law and choose to report it, your rights are protected, and your employer cannot fire you because you chose to bring those circumstances to light.

Many employers, because they’re familiar with those laws, may not choose to fire you immediately, as you go through the process and the investigation, but may try to drum up a reason to fire you when the investigation comes to a close. When you know your rights you can protect your job or receive compensation after an act of wrongful termination.

Did an employer terminate your job because you took leave under the FMLA?

The Family Medical Leave Act not only guarantees you the right to take that time off, albeit unpaid, it also protects your job when you come back to work. If your employer terminates your job when you take that leave, you may have the right to file a wrongful termination claim against your employer.

Did your employer terminate your job because of a workers’ compensation claim?

Workers’ compensation can ease the financial burden when you sustain a serious injury at work. While state laws vary, for the most part, workers’ compensation will provide coverage for all of your medical bills and a portion of your wages while you recover from your injuries.

Unless you deliberately caused your own injuries, your employer must take responsibility for workers’ compensation, even if an act of negligence on your part caused your injuries.

Your employer cannot fire you while you take leave due to an injury at work, nor can your employer fire you as soon as you come back.

If you believe that your employer terminated your employment because of a workers’ compensation claim, working with an employment attorney or personal injury attorney can help you pursue the compensation you deserve.

What should I do if I face discrimination in the workplace?

Discrimination in the workplace can feel incredibly painful. You may feel that you have worked your hardest but cannot achieve the same recognition as your peers, often based on factors like sex, gender, or race that are completely out of your control.

What happens next?

Make sure you follow the right steps to protect yourself as much as possible after facing discrimination at work:

1. Document Everything

Any time you believe you may have suffered discrimination in the workplace, make sure you document it. If you later discover that something wasn’t a specific act of discrimination, you haven’t lost anything. On the other hand, if you start documenting early, you will have much-needed proof of when the discrimination began later.

If discrimination is written or committed via email, keep all of those communications. For discrimination in virtual settings, keep backups of that data off the company network. Many companies will go in and delete your emails or personal files to help hide that evidence, so storing them off-site can help ensure that you have access to that data.

If you suffer verbal discrimination, create a written list of what was said, who said it, and when it occurred. Add to that list every time you face discrimination.

2. Contact Your HR Department

If discrimination comes from an employee on the same level you are, or if your boss commits an act of discrimination against you, report it to the HR department. Sometimes, that report will help create real change within your department or organization.

Unfortunately, in other cases, that report may change little, and you may face repercussions. Try to issue your report via email or written report, and make a copy of that, too. Your documents could help your employment lawyer prove discrimination in a later case.

3. Get in Touch with a Lawyer

If discrimination does not resolve promptly, or if you end up facing termination because of discrimination or due to retaliation after you report that discrimination, hire a labor law attorney. A lawyer can help go over your rights and ensure that you have the documentation necessary to pursue a claim.

What is workers’ compensation?

Workers’ compensation insurance must be carried by every employer. It kicks in any time an employee suffers serious injury on the job.  It pays out for your medical expenses following a workplace injury, regardless of who caused that injury.

You can use workers’ compensation insurance if you face an attack at work that causes a serious injury, if you have an accident because of your employer’s negligence, or if you have an accident due to your own act of negligence.

However, workers’ compensation insurance will not kick in if you deliberately cause your own injuries. Some employees may attempt to injure themselves on purpose so that they can receive that compensation. If your employer can prove that you caused your injuries on purpose, you might not receive compensation for those injuries.

In addition to coverage for immediate medical expenses, workers’ compensation insurance usually pays out a percentage of your salary as wage compensation while you recover.

How is a workers’ compensation claim different from a personal injury claim?

Workers’ compensation, like a personal injury claim, can provide much-needed compensation and assistance after a serious injury. However, there are several key differences that you should recognize:

Workers’ compensation insurance pays out regardless of who caused your injuries.

You do not have to show that your employer committed a specific act of negligence in order to file a workers’ compensation claim. However, your employer may want to make sure that you did not deliberately cause your own injuries, which could prevent you from filing a workers’ compensation claim.

Workers’ compensation may require you to use specific providers, and you may need to have medical procedures specifically approved.

A personal injury claim typically results in a settlement that gets paid out to you after a serious accident, allowing you to decide what you want to do with the funds and which insurance providers you want to use.

On the other hand, if you need to file a workers’ compensation claim, the insurance company may determine what providers you can use. You may also have to receive approval for many procedures associated with treating your injuries.

Workers’ compensation will make small, regular payments, rather than one lump sum.

You will receive regular checks to help replace your lost wages, rather than receiving a lump sum settlement once you have completed your claim. However, if you suffered permanent disability as a result of your accident, you may receive a lump sum settlement.

If you need help filing a workers’ compensation claim, get in touch with a local employment law firm as soon as possible to discuss your options.

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What are wage and hour violations?

Wage and hour violations occur when an employer does not compensate you fairly for the actions you performed on the job. Wage violations may include not paying you your standard wage, or the wage agreed on in your contract, for your hours at work. You will generally accept a position for a specific hourly wage, and your employer must compensate you based on that wage. Sometimes, however, your employer may try to drop your salary unexpectedly.

Wage violations may also include overtime violations. State law mandates what hourly employees must receive in compensation for overtime: that is, any time you go over 40 hours per week at work. Salaried employees may not receive the same compensations, and contractors may fall into different categories.

However, if you work as an hourly employee and you do not receive appropriate compensation for overtime hours worked, you may have the right to file a claim against your employer.

Finally, your employer may try to change the hours you have worked manually. In an effort to cut costs, your employer may decrease the number of hours reflected on your paycheck, including eliminating hours you know you spent on the clock. Typical wage violation tactics include requiring you to open or close a store off the clock. Other times your employer may simply remove those hours from your paycheck, even though you were clocked in at the time.

Employees, especially those who work a variable schedule, may not realize wage theft is happening until later, making it very difficult to determine how many hours have been lost. Consulting with an employment attorney about your Fair Labor Standard Act (FLSA) lawsuit can help you make your case.

What are common workplace health and safety violations?

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has very specific guidelines that cover both private and public sector employees and ensure that they have safe working environments. These requirements may vary by industry.

For example, construction workers may have a much more stringent set of requirements than the average grocery store. If you’ve been dealing with OSHA violations at work or with a former employer, take advantage of our free construction and construction accident resources.

In general, OSHA requires employers to provide employees with a work environment free of recognized, serious hazards. This may include:

Ensuring a Lack of Hazards in the Workplace

In some workplaces, workers may face known hazards as part of their daily job duties. Factories, for example, may have a great deal of heavy machinery moving all the time, while construction sites may include heavy equipment, electrical hazards, and dangerous chemicals.

Workers who are aware of those hazards can take steps to protect themselves, including using safety equipment or avoiding specific areas. In some workplaces, however, employers may try to avoid sharing that information with their employees, which can increase the odds that employees will suffer severe, often life-altering injuries in the workplace.

Providing and Requiring the Use of Appropriate Safety Equipment

Safety equipment can make a huge difference in overall employee safety. Many employees face hazards as part of their everyday job duties, but they have the right safety equipment to help protect them. They may use safety lines or barriers to help prevent falls or specific equipment to help protect them against hazards, including chemicals or biohazard materials.

Employers need to provide that safety equipment to their employees to ensure that employees do not face unnecessary danger in the workplace.

Employers must also require the use of that safety equipment on the job site. In some workplace environments, employees may grow lazy over time. They may choose not to use vital safety gear or even to pressure others not to use it in an effort to save time. Employers may even put that pressure on employees, since they may not want to deal with the cost of that equipment or the time lost while employees take those safety measures.

According to OSHA regulations, however, employers must require those measures in order to help keep employees safe on the job. You, as the employee, have the right to a safe working environment and the safety equipment needed to protect you, even when inconvenient.

Employment laws exist to protect employees at work, regardless of where they work or what they do. Do you need an attorney due to illegal actions in your workplace? Enter your ZIP code below to hire an employment labor law attorney near you.

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