Generally speaking, employment law is a type of law that oversees the relationship between an employer and their employees. It involves a combination of both federal and state laws, and covers a wide variety of subjects that are meant to protect the rights of workers.
Some of these laws include:
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”): Title VII prohibits employers from discriminating against employees, or potential employees, on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. Essentially, it is an anti-discrimination law;
- Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA): The FLSA concerns different aspects of employment, including minimum wage, overtime pay, and child labor protections;
- Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA): The FMLA provides protections for employees that need to take a leave of absence due to the health or medical conditions of a family member, or for themselves; and
- Occupational Health and Safety Regulations (OSHA): OSHA is a federal organization whose goal is to ensure that a work environment provides healthy and safe working conditions for its employees.
States may also have their own forms of employment laws that provide different or additional protections for workers.
The rights relating to employment rights are all of those included within some of the laws mentioned above. Basically, employment rights stem from employment laws.
Thus, employment rights primarily exist to protect the safety and quality of a work environment for all workers. This includes employees, former employees, job applicants, and certain rights concerning employers.
Similar to employment laws, rights involving employment rights cover a wide range of subjects, such as:
- Employment discrimination (e.g., Title VII);
- Workers’ compensation;
- Wage and hour issues (e.g., FLSA);
- Pregnancy leave;
- Medical or disability leave (e.g., FMLA);
- Unemployment benefits;
- Health and safety (e.g., OSHA);
- Privacy in the workplace;
- Right to unionize; and
- Other various related rights.
While federal laws and statutes generally govern a large portion of employment rights, as noted, states may also have individual statutes that provide protections for employment rights.
Additionally, if an employee has signed an employment contract with their employer, they may have certain individual rights under that agreement as well.
Depending on the type of workplace, some workers belong to what is called a labor union or simply, a union. A labor union is a type of organization that is formed to protect and further the rights and interests of employees.
In order to protect these associations and their pro-union members, the federal government enacted a federal law entitled the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”), along with a Board (NLRB), to help enforce its provisions.
The NLRA was designed to permit employees to freely organize, promote, or join a labor union, without the fear of retaliation from their employers.
Employees who join labor unions may exercise several rights, including:
- The right to be equally protected when engaging in union activities;
- The promised benefit of full union support;
- Protection to be free from coercion and restraint by an employer;
- The right to nominate candidates for office; and
- Various other rights that offer protections specifically for union members.
As for their activities, labor union members act as a collective front on behalf of affiliated employees to voice their concerns and opinions. They discuss ideas and observations regarding a specific trade or company, and determine how an employer can improve upon their workplace conditions.
For example, they look for conditions such as:
- Ensuring employees have decent wages and benefits (e.g., health insurance);
- Creating a better work life balance for employees (e.g., number of hours worked per week);
- Checking whether a work environment is safe, clean, and in accordance with legal safety standards; and
- Making sure that the company or trade has fair and equal procedures for employees, especially in regard to receiving a promotion or being fired.
Additionally, if a union association suspects that a company has committed some sort of violation, then they may seek to enter into negotiations with the company’s management in order to resolve the issue.
Thus, labor unions serve to protect employment rights for workers by evaluating whether labor laws exist and are being enforced. In addition to this, they also enjoy their own type of employment right protections for members who decide to join their organizations.
Therefore, unions offer different forms of legal protection for various employment rights.
Violations of employment rights can often lead to serious legal penalties for employers, and also for any employees that might be involved. A party who has violated an employment right may be required to pay a monetary award (damages) to reimburse a claimant for their injuries or losses.
For example, if an employer fails to pay an employee their overtime wages that are required by federal and local laws, then the employer can be held responsible for having to pay the employee their overtime. Additionally, they may also have to pay a certain percentage of interest based on the amount of the owed overtime payments.
If an employee is aware of the fact that a violation has occurred or is occurring, then the employee should start to document the incident. Some forms of proof may include pay stubs, tax information, and other statements from the employer.
The employee can then file a claim with either a company’s human resources department, or with a government agency, such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”).
In addition to having to pay damages to an employee, an employer may also suffer other legal consequences for violating employment rights. This includes losing their business license or being required to change their management structure or policies.
Employment rights are essential for every work environment. Although there are many federal employment laws in place to prevent violations of workers’ employment rights, state laws often vary in their requirements.
Therefore, if you are experiencing any issues or are concerned about a matter involving your employment rights, you may want to contact a local employment lawyer for assistance.
An experienced employment lawyer can provide clarity about your issues down to a state level, counsel you on the type of employment rights you may have, and can determine whether any of your employment rights have been violated.
Finally, if you need to file a claim or lawsuit pertaining to a violation of your employment rights, a lawyer can help you obtain any remedies that may be necessary for resolving your matter.