Employment Law Covers All Aspects of the Employer/Employee Relationship
Labor and employment law is a broad area that governs all aspects of the employer/employee relationship from the time of the employee's first interview to their last day of employment. Employment law also includes compensation and hours worked and defines employer-provided benefits, such as paid time off and health insurance. Additional aspects covered by employment law include workplace safety, the fair treatment of all workers, unemployment compensation, and pensions.
Employment Law is Designed to Protect Employees and Employers
A wide range of federal, state, and local laws affect the American workplace, and employers need to understand their responsibilities and obligations to their employees. Complying with these many statutes will help employers protect the rights of their employees and avoid the possibility of litigation.
What are the Primary Components of Employment Law?
The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL)The U.S. Department of Labor administers, oversees, and enforces most federal employment laws regarding compensation, work hours, standards related to safety and health, employer-provided health and retirement benefits, and federal contracts. The DOL is committed to providing employers with the information they need to comply with federal employment laws.
· The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against an employee or job applicant based on the individual's race, color, religion, sex, pregnancy and related conditions, gender identity, and sexual orientation, national origin, age, disability, or genetic information. These laws apply to work-related situations, including hiring, firing, promotions, harassment, training, wages, and benefits. Most employers with at least 15 employees are covered by EEOC laws. (The number of employees increases to 20 in instances of age discrimination cases.) The EEOC also covers most labor unions and employment agencies. The EEOC's website provides information for employers seeking to prevent and address employment discrimination.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
Disability rights are civil rights. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects individuals with disabilities from discrimination. From employment to parking, the ADA is a law that protects people with disabilities in many areas of public life. The DOJ's Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) website provides employers with extensive ADA information and resources, including business publications and links to the various government agencies responsible for enforcing its multiple provisions.
In addition to complying with federal employment laws, employers must be aware of state-specific laws. When state laws differ from federal statutes, employees may be entitled to the more significant benefit or the more generous right as provided under the terms of each law.
What are Federal Discrimination Laws:
Workplace discrimination is prohibited by law. Workplace discrimination occurs when an employee who belongs to a protected class of workers experiences treatment that is unlike the treatment experienced by their peers. Federal laws prohibit employers from discriminating against job applicants and employees based on characteristics that include age, race, and religion. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is an example of a federal discrimination law.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (Title VII)
Title VII makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an employee or an applicant due to race, color, religion, sex, pregnancy, sexual orientation, or National origin.
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA)
The Age Discrimination Act forbids age discrimination against people 40 or older. It does not protect workers under 40, although some states have laws protecting younger workers from age discrimination.
The Equal Pay Act:
The Equal Pay Act requires that men and women in the same workplace be given equal pay for equal work.
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
This law prohibits discrimination based on disabilities, requiring employers to provide reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities.
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act
It is unlawful for employers to discriminate against employees or applicants due to pregnancy or related conditions. The EEOC enforces federal laws that protect pregnant job applicants and employees.
Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA)
This Act prohibits discrimination based on genetic information.
Wages and Benefits
Employment law also covers most aspects of an employee's compensation and benefits. In addition to compensating employees by paying hourly or annual salaries, many employers offer their workers benefits, including paid time off, retirement plans, and health, dental, and life insurance. The laws associated with this section of employment law include:
Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) sets the standard for minimum hourly wages, establishes overtime pay, and defines what can be considered work.
Minimum Wage: The minimum wage represents the lowest amount an employer can pay their employees and often varies depending on the area.
Overtime Pay: Overtime compensation represents the amount the government requires an employer to pay an employee for working over 40 hours a week, typically at a higher pay rate than their regular rate.
The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act COBRA: COBRA is a law allowing employees and their families to access their group health insurance benefits. They can access the same benefits and rates even though the company no longer employs them.
ERISA: The Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) governs how companies administer healthcare benefits and pension plans, requiring employers to manage plans according to specific standards.
Garnishment: The garnishment of wages occurs when an employer must withhold a part of an employee's pay to satisfy a debt with a creditor.
Stock Options: When a company offers this benefit to their employees, workers can buy shares of stock in the company.
Employers Must Comply with Health and Safety Standards
Employees have a legal right to work in a safe environment free of specific hazards. Under the terms of employment law, the government can hold employers responsible for medical costs if an employee is injured on the job. Laws regarding the health and safety of a workplace include:
The Occupational Safety and Health Act
The Occupational Safety and Health Act helps minimize workplace dangers by establishing certain standards, including provisions for specific industries, such as the construction industry. The Occupational Health and Safety Act was signed into law in 1979. Since then, amendments to the Act have been introduced to establish new rights, procedures, and obligations for employers and employees. The Occupational Health and Safety Act defines three fundamental rights:
1. The Right to Know
Employers, managers, and supervisors must ensure workers are aware of the hazards that exist within the workplace. People, equipment, materials, the environment, or processes can cause hazards. When there is a possibility that workers may be exposed to dangerous conditions or toxic substances, the workers have a right to the information and training that will ensure their safety.
2. The Right to Participate
Workers have the right to question their employer about their health and safety issues. Workers also have the right to be a part of a process that identifies potential safety hazards, assesses the degree of the threat, and controls workplace health and safety protocols. Employee participation can also be achieved by reporting unsafe conditions to management or directly to the employer.
3. Right to Refuse Unsafe Work
Workers may refuse to work in an environment where they believe it is likely that they may endanger themselves or others. The Occupational Health and Safety Act also includes a process for employees who refuse unsafe work and explains the employer's responsibility for responding to work refusals. The Act also protects workers from reprisal or retaliation from the employer if the employee refuses to participate in an unsafe work environment.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is a regulatory agency responsible for creating and enforcing health and workplace safety standards.
An occupational disease is an illness associated with a particular work environment. Occupational lung diseases, for example, include asbestosis, common among asbestos miners, and black lung disease, which occurs among those who work in the coal mining and cotton textile industries. Occupational skin diseases are also common and are generally caused by chemicals, irritants, and having wet hands for long periods while at work.
Workers who are considered to be at high risk include those who work in the:
· Hair salons
· Metal machining
· Motor vehicle repair
Other diseases may stem from:
Overuse syndrome is found among workers who perform repetitive or forceful movements in constrictive postures.
Carpal Tunnel syndrome occurs among those who work long hours at a computer.
Computer Vision syndrome is found among those who work long hours at a computer.
Environmental hazards in the workplace include any substance, state, or event that can adversely affect an individual's health or the surrounding environment. An environmental hazard can result from pollution or natural disasters such as storms or earthquakes. It can include any single or combination of toxic chemical, biological, or physical agents in the environment resulting from human activities or natural processes that may impact the health of exposed subjects, including pollutants such as heavy metals, pesticides, biological contaminants, toxic waste, and industrial and home chemicals.
Hazards can be categorized into four types:
2. Physical (mechanical, etc.)
Additional Aspects of Employment Law
In addition to health and safety, wages and benefits, and discrimination, labor and employment law often focuses on labor relations, unemployment compensation, family and medical leave, employee contracts, immigration, and even the hiring process.
· At-Will Employment
With this form of employment, both the employer nor the employee aren't under a contractual agreement, and neither can leave the relationship at any time and for any reason.
· Wrongful Termination
The discharge must breach an employment agreement and violate state or federal laws to be classified as wrongful termination. While employers often have significant discretion over hiring and firing their workers, in certain circumstances, firing an employee can constitute wrongful termination.
· Noncompetition Agreement
Non-compete agreements are legal contracts between an employer and an employee. These agreements prevent the employee from revealing proprietary information or organizational secrets to other parties during or after employment. An employer typically utilizes a non-compete agreement to protect the company's confidential information if a departing employee becomes a competitor or is hired by a competing organization. Non-compete agreements are generally enforceable in Texas if they are supported by valid consideration and contain reasonable restrictions regarding the covenant's period, geographical limitations—the scope of the activities to be restrained.
· Unemployment Insurance Benefits
Unemployment insurance is a type of state-provided insurance that pays money to individuals every week when they lose their job and meet specific eligibility requirements. This financial benefit is paid to an individual without a job, typically comprising a certain percentage of their former earnings. Employees who quit their jobs voluntarily or were fired for just cause are not generally eligible for unemployment insurance.
The Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 is a federal law that protects whistleblowers who expose their employer's unlawful activity. Whistleblowers have access to certain legal protections if they report their employers to the authorities for illegal actions. These actions can include violations of law, rules, or regulations and include acts of mismanagement, gross waste of funds, abuse of power, or actions that harm public health and safety.
Labor and employment law governs the relationship between an employee and their employer. This section of the law regulates the hours an employee can work, determines the wages an employee can receive, and helps ensure employers provide a safe and appropriate workplace. Federal, state, and local laws administer workplace standards and define the rights and responsibilities of both parties. Employers must comply with the duties and obligations defined by these laws to protect their employees and minimize the risk of litigation.