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What is Labor Law?

Labor laws are a set of laws, statutes, and regulations that broadly cover various issues that may arise in an employment setting. The main purpose of labor laws is to protect the employment rights of workers. Labor laws also create processes and governmental departments that are instrumental in investigation employment-related disputes.

In its early stages, labor law mostly addressed the regulation and banning of child labor especially in connection with certain industries. From there, it evolved over time to address more labor disputes, as well as the regulation and formation of labor unions.

In many instances, the term “labor law” is used interchangeably with “employment law”, as both areas of law may address similar subjects and legal issues. However, one major difference between the two is that labor law tends to deal with the rights of groups of people (such as with labor unions), while employment law often deals with individual rights and conflicts. There is much overlap between the two areas of law.

Labor laws cover a wide range of issues, including those related to discrimination, harassment, hiring/firing, unfair labor practices, compensation, and other issues.

What Laws Control U.S. Labor Law?

There are a number of federal laws that shape and define U.S. labor laws. As mentioned, such laws often create various departments and agencies whose role is to investigate workplace labor violations.

Some of the more commonly-cited U.S. labor laws and departments include:

  • Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA): The Fair Labor Standards Act , or FLSA, provides guidelines for employers to create fair working conditions, especially with regards to hours worked and compensation for employees. For instance, the act covers subjects such as:
    • Minimum wage rates for employees;
    • Overtime definitions and overtime pay rates;
    • Child labor provisions;
    • Maintenance and record-keeping for hours, wages, and other items commonly recorded in connection with a business.
  • Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC): The EEOC is an agency created to regulate and investigate specific types of workplace disputes, mainly those revolving around workplace discrimination. The law investigates claims where an employer has discriminated against an employee (or potential employee) on the basis of their race, sex, age, nationality, religion, and other factors. It also covers other aspects such as illegal terminations and retaliatory discharge in response to whistleblower activities (for example, if a worker was fired because they filed a report about their work conditions).
  • Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA): This administration is responsible for providing guidelines for workplace safety conditions. It often performs regular inspections of workplaces, especially those that are considered to be in “high hazard” industries. OSHA laws provide penalties for employers that fail to create safe working places for workers.
    • The administration also investigates any complaints filed by employees. OSHA complaints may also deal with work-related accidents and incidents resulting in serious injury or death of three or more employees. Employers are required to post information provided by OSHA in visible places at the work site, such as in an employee break room.
  • Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959 (LMRDA): This act was developed in order to create measures which stop improper coordination or collusion between employers and labor union officials. It also requires various disclosures and transparency with regard to financial transactions of unions. It also addresses specific issues like embezzlement of union funds, and administrative practices of the union and its labor consultants (including elections and fiduciary responsibilities of union officials).

States may also have their own labor laws, which may or may not adopt the guidelines set forth in various federal laws. State laws may generally provide more, but not less protection than federal laws. Each state’s body of labor laws will be different from the next, so it’s important to consult with a labor lawyer if you have any inquiries regarding the specific laws of your state.

What are Some Illegal Labor Practices?

Labor laws cover a wide range of illegal labor practices. As mentioned, many labor laws also overlap with (or are the same as) employment laws, with the distinction being that labor laws often focus on groups rights rather than individual rights.

Some illegal labor practices and disputes may involve:

If you believe that you have been affected by any illegal labor practices, or if you observe them happening in your workplace, you may want to report the unfair labor practices to the relevant agency or administration. For instance, discrimination claims are largely handled by the EEOC, while health and safety matters will be investigated by OSHA.

Remedies provided under U.S. labor laws can involve a number of different measures to make the employee(s) whole again through. Labor law remedies can include:

  • Investigations into the conditions of the workplace;
  • Damages for losses caused by labor violations (such as payment of lost wages);
  • Reinstatement of a terminated employee to their previous position;
  • Bargaining guidance for union negotiations;
  • Requirements that the employer change their work practices and policies; and
  • Various other remedies.

Do I Need to Hire a Labor Lawyer if I’m Involved in a Dispute?

Labor laws cover a very wide range of conflicts and disputes, and can sometimes be complex. It may be in your best interests to hire a labor lawyer in your area if you are involved in a labor dispute or conflict. Your attorney can research the laws to determine which acts or statutes are applicable to your case. They can also help you file a claim with the appropriate agency.

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