Employment law is the umbrella term used to describe a broad range of legal issues that arise in connection with employees, employers, and safety conditions in the workplace. For instance, some employment laws may apply to a case that involves employment discrimination, while others can be used to provide guidance when drafting company policies or employee handbooks.
The main purpose of employment law is to protect all those who are part of the workforce. This may include:
- Establishing protection for employees in disputes against a colleague, an employer, or a company;
- Ensuring that businesses do not discriminate against prospective job candidates or current employees in the interviewing, hiring, promoting, or terminating process;
- Granting certain rights to individuals who are self-employed or are considered to be independent contractors;
- Making sure that volunteers and interns do not suffer from sexual harassment, discrimination, or retaliation in the workplace; and
- Many other topics that can affect employment rights.
In addition, it should be noted that employment laws can vary widely by jurisdiction. Thus, the rights that one state may protect, may not be available as a protection under the laws of another state. Also, keep in mind that some issues may be governed by both state and federal employment laws (e.g., pregnancy leave).
What Are Some Different Types of Employment?
According to the federal laws known as the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) and the Internal Revenue Code (“IRC”), there are a number of ways to classify employees. Specifically, these federal laws divide workers into two main categories of employment: employees and independent contractors. The groups within those categories will then be further broken down into various types of employment.
Some examples of the different types of employment that a worker’s job can be classified as may include:
- Full time or part time employment;
- Seasonal or temporary employment;
- Independent contractors;
- Consultants; and/or
- Temporary workers (note that this type of employment differs from that of a worker who is considered to be a temporary employee).
Knowing which type of employment that a worker falls under is important for not only the employer, but also the employee themselves. This is because the kind of employment that a worker secures will determine what kinds of benefits they can receive, what rights they have as a worker, and whether they qualify for certain perks. It will also have an effect on what sort of tasks the employer will legally be obligated to do (e.g., withholding income taxes).
What Is the Difference Between an Employee and an Independent Contractor?
As previously mentioned, some employment law issues may be governed by both state and federal employment statutes. One of those issues happens to be determining the difference between an employee and independent contractor. Such laws will also dictate the separate legal requirements that employers will need to follow for each of these types of workers.
In general, the most important factor to consider in deciding whether a worker is an employee or independent contractor is how much control the individual has over their work. For example, if the worker has say over the work that they do and the methods they use to complete the work, then that worker is more likely to be treated as an independent contractor, not an employee.
On the other hand, if an employer has total control over which tasks a worker performs and the process they use to perform it, then this worker will probably be deemed to be an employee, not an independent contractor.
Accordingly, an employer will have to comply with certain federal regulations for employees, such as withholding income taxes from employee paychecks and making sure that the employee is paid at a rate that at least meets minimum wage standards.
In contrast, an employer will not need to provide employee benefits or withhold income taxes from the paychecks for an independent contractor. The independent contractor will be responsible for overseeing these matters themselves. Additionally, while employers can be held liable for the actions of their employees, they usually cannot be held liable for the actions of an independent contractor.
What Are My Legal Rights as an Employee?
Employees enjoy many legal rights, such as the right to privacy, the right to be free from discrimination, and the right to fair compensation. Basically, if a right is listed under an employment law, then it will most likely apply and can be used to protect an employee.
Many of the rights provided by employment laws concern the well-being and safety of employee conditions in the workplace. For instance, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) is responsible for enforcing laws and policies that protect employees from dangerous conditions and unsafe work environments.
Take, for example, an employer who refuses to fix equipment or to repair a building, which then develops into an issue that exposes their employees to toxic chemicals. An employee whose health has been affected by the chemicals can submit a complaint to OSHA. OSHA will then investigate the merits of the complaint and determine whether to issue sanctions against the employer.
Employees may also have other legal rights that stem from an employment contract. Thus, an individual employee may be granted additional legal rights through this document as well.
What Are My Rights as an Independent Contractor?
Independent contractors generally have more freedom over their work than employees. They can choose which company they work for and can perform work for multiple companies at a single time. They have control over which projects they select and the methods they use to complete those projects. As such, they earn their living on a per project or contract basis, as opposed to relying on a salary. Basically, they can tailor an assignment to their liking.
Despite all of the freedom that independent contractors appear to have, they typically are not afforded the same amount of legal protections as employees. For example, independent contractors usually need to withhold income from their paychecks by paying quarterly taxes. They also will need to pay for their own healthcare benefits.
In contrast, employees are usually given the option of signing-up for healthcare benefits through their employer. Also, the employer is the one responsible for withholding income taxes from employee paychecks, not the employee.
Thus, independent contractors essentially give up a lot of their legal protections and rights in exchange for freedom over their work and work schedule.
What Is Employment Discrimination?
According to a federal employment discrimination law known as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), it is illegal for an employer to discriminate against a current employee or prospective job candidate on the basis of religion, gender, disability, national origin, color, and several other characteristics that specifically define protected categories of people.
Thus, if an employer makes a decision regarding the hiring, firing, or promoting of an employee based on one of these protected traits, then the employee will most likely be able to file a claim for employment discrimination in a court of law.
In some cases, an employee or prospective job candidate may even be able to bring a lawsuit against an employer who advertises in a manner that discriminates against such traits. For instance, an employer cannot state in a job description that they will only hire persons of a certain race. If they do, their actions will be grounds for a lawsuit.
What Is a Whistleblower?
A whistleblower refers to an individual (usually an employee) who reports illegal or fraudulent actions being performed by their employer and/or colleagues to an outside agency or the government. Whistleblowers are protected by a number of whistleblower statutes, including those that prohibit employers from retaliating against them, give them permission to become a whistleblower, and allow them to testify against an employer who engages in illegal activities.
For instance, an employer cannot retaliate against a worker for reporting an illegal act (i.e., “blowing the whistle”). This means that they cannot fire the worker, deny them benefits, or demote them simply for disclosing illegal or fraudulent activities. If an employer does retaliate against them and the whistleblower can prove it, they may be able to sue their employer for damages based on a claim for retaliatory discharge.
Do I Need an Employment Lawyer?
If you believe that your employer has violated your legal rights as a worker or some other employment law, then you should hire a local employment lawyer for further assistance. An experienced employment law attorney can help protect your interests and defend your rights under the law. Your attorney can also assist you in filing a lawsuit against an employer and/or colleague and in recovering damages for any losses that you suffered.
Alternatively, if you are an employer who is being used by a worker, then you should hire an employment law attorney immediately to represent you in court. Your attorney will be able to determine whether there are any defenses you can raise against the claim and can discuss the potential outcomes of your case.