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What Is Employment Law?

Employment law covers the many facets related to employment, employers, independent contractors and employees. From selecting and interviewing employees to work disputes and termination of employment, employment law creates specific guidelines, which both employers and employees must follow.

Type of Employment

There are generally two types of employees - "at-will" or The majority of state laws say that employment is "at will," meaning the employer can terminate an employee from a position for any reason, so long as the reason is not an illegal reason. State employment laws also regulate employment contracts, and the clauses an employer or employee may find within employment contracts.

As an at-will employee, your employer can terminate your position at any time - with or without notice. Typically an employment contract will define an employee as at at-will employee. However, where an employment contract is silent on the matter of an employee’s status, and that employee is fired for no reason, that employee may argue that the termination was wrongful. The employee could argue that they could only be terminated for "good cause."

An employment contract is an agreement between an employee and employer that outlines the basic responsibilities of the employee. If the employee signs the contract, it is deemed to be binding. The various types of employment contracts that an employee may be required to sign are the following:

  • Confidentiality agreements provide that the employee will not share any information about proprietary information regarding the company.
  • Non-compete agreements provide that an employee agrees that for a defined period of time after the employment ends, they will not work for any competing company and/or steal the company’s customers.
  • Arbitration agreements are those where an employee agrees to arbitrate any disputes to resolve any issues with employer, rather than going to court.
  • Termination agreements provide that an employer may terminate the employee for any reasons.

If you are concerned about an employment contract you are presented, take the time to read over it prior to signing it. Additionally, you could seek the aid of an experienced employment attorney to review the employment contract and raise any points and issues you will need to consider.

What Is Employment Discrimination?

Employment discrimination is discrimination in the workplace based on race, sex, religion, national origin, physical disability, and age. A growing body of law also seeks to prevent employment discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Generally, employment discrimination laws apply to all procedural steps of employment, including interviewing, hiring, advertising, promoting and terminating employees. Employment discrimination laws state that an employer cannot discriminate against an employee or potential employee on the basis of certain characteristics like race, gender, age, national origin, disability and religion.

What Are My Rights As an Employee?

As an employee, you are protected by basic rights including the right to privacy, fair compensation, right to a safe workplace and freedom from discrimination. Even prior to being hired, a potential employee is protected against discrimination. A potential employee has the right to be free from discrimination in the hiring process based on age, gender, race, national origin, or religion.

The right to privacy as an employee includes the right to be protected from invasion of the employee’s personal possessions, storage lockers only accessible by the employee, and private mail addressed to the employee. Employees also have a right to privacy in their telephone conversations and/or voicemail messages.

What Is a Whistleblower?

A whistleblower is a person who exposes misconduct or illegal activity of an organization or corporation. Whistleblowers may make their allegations internally to higher executive members of the organization or corporation, or externally to law enforcement, federal regulatory agencies, or to the media.

The purpose of whistleblower protection is to permit employees to stop, report, or testify about employer actions that are illegal, unhealthy, or violate specific public policies. Prior to whistleblower protection, employees lived in fear of disclosing illegal activity or misconduct for fear of being fired.

What Are My Rights as an Independent Contractor?

An independent contractor is paid for work for companies and individuals, however, they are not considered an employee. As an independent contractor, one has the ability to contract with other companies and individuals as well as having more general freedom over their work.

However, independent contractors do not have the same legal protections that employees do. Independent contractors have the right to decide when, where, and how a project should be completed. The customer specifies how the work should look, however, the independent contractor has the right to determine how to achieve the look desired. There is no single rule to determine whether one is an employee or an independent contractor, however, the court will consider such factors as:

  • Whether the business relationship is permanent or temporary.
  • The amount the worker has invested in the equipment or materials, or whether they are provided.
  • Degree of control over the worker’s conduct.
  • Worker’s opportunity to profit and loss.
  • Whether the worker’s services are an integral part of the business.

Do I Need an Employment Lawyer?

If you feel you have been wrongfully terminated or discriminated against an experienced employment attorney can help defend your rights. You may be entitled to damages for your loss. An employment attorney can take all the facts and determine what protections you were entitled to and what protections you were denied. Similarly, if you are an employer and are being used by an employee and/or independent contractor, an employment attorney can defend and protect your rights.

Photo of page author Kirin McKenna

, LegalMatch Legal Writer and Attorney at Law

Last Modified: 11-08-2017 11:36 PM PST

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