Labor laws are a broad set of laws, rules, and regulations that apply in employment settings. The main goal of these laws is to protect the rights of employees. Common labor law disputes include:
- Collective bargaining negotiation with union employees;
- Discrimination and harassment;
- Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave;
- Wrongful termination; and
- Worker’s compensation.
The term labor law can be almost interchangeable with the term employment law. These two areas cover the same topics and concerns.
A labor lawyer can also be referred to as an employment lawyer. However, individuals usually refer to a lawyer involved in cases regarding union disputes to be a labor lawyer.
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is an administrative agency that hears disputes between unions and employers. The NLRB determines which union represents a group of employees.
The NLRB has also created regulations and procedures for the formation of unions. They have a General Counsel that investigates union or employer claims of unfair bargaining as well as creates procedures and rules for collective bargaining.
An NLRB attorney acts on behalf of the General Counsel. These attorneys perform functions including:
- Investigate charges of unfair labor practices;
- Resolve and litigate cases;
- Conduct elections to determine union representation preferences; and
- Act as hearing officers in contested representation matters.
Labor and employment laws govern interactions between employers and employees. There are typically two broad categories of employees, an at-will employee or a contingent worker, such as a contract worker.
Most state laws provide that employment is at will. This means that an employer can terminate an employee from a position for any reason, so long as that reason is not illegal.
The employment laws of each state also regulate employment contracts. This includes the clauses an employer or employee may find within their employment contracts.
The employer of an at-will employee may terminate the position at any time, with or without notice. In most cases, an employment contract will specify that the employee is an at-will employee.
However, if the contract is silent on the matter of the employee’s status and that employee is terminated without reason, they may argue that their termination was wrongful. The employee may argue that pursuant to their contract, they could only be terminated for good cause.
An employment contract is an agreement between the employer and employee that outlines the basic responsibilities of the employee. When the employee signs in the contract, it is deemed binding.
There are various types of employment contracts that employees may be required to sign. These include:
- A confidentiality agreement, which provides that the employee will not share any proprietary information regarding the company;
- A non-compete agreement, which provides that the employee agrees that, for a specified period of time after the employment ends, they will not work for a competing company or take away the company’s customers;
- An arbitration agreement, in which the employee agrees to arbitrate any disputes that arise with the employer rather than going to court; and
- A termination agreement, which provides that the employer may terminate the employee for any reason.
An individual should always take time to read and carefully review any employment contract before signing. In addition, they may seek the assistance of an attorney to review the contract and advise them on any issues they may need to consider to resolve prior to signing the contract.
How are Labor Laws Regulated in Unions?
A labor union is a group of workers who have extra protection that enter into collective bargaining agreements with employers and have the authority to negotiate labor contracts. Union employees typically negotiate their pay, labor conditions, benefits, termination guidelines and procedures for dealing with labor complaints.
The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) is a federal law that applies to employees in the private sector who are union represented. The goal of this law is to ensure that the rights of the employees are not violated. For example, the NLRA grants employees rights including:
- To form a union if one does not exist;
- To join a union;
- To decline to take part in union activities;
- To do away with a union, if certain conditions are met; and
- To be fairly represented by a union.
The NLRA prohibits retaliation against an employee who tries to organize a union or bargain collectively with an employer. Disrimination against an employee based on their union membership is prohibited. This includes discrimination for be a member or a non-member of a union.
The NLRA grants non-union employees the right to participate in concerted activities which address issues in the workplace. For example, if an employee who is not represented by a union approaches their employer regarding unfair pay practices, they will be protected by the NLRA.
However, a recent case may have altered the landscape of union for non-union employees. In 2018, the United States Supreme Court made an important ruling regarding the future of unions. In Janus v. AFSCME, the Supreme Court held that a nonunion worker cannot be forced to pay fees to a public sector union. Before this, the nonunion workers were forced to pay fees because at least some of the negotiations the unions participate in will benefit or impact them directly.
As a result of this case, unions for employees such as postal workers, police officers, and teachers may be at risk. This is because they can no longer force employees to pay union dues or fees. While this law only recently changed, the full effect is not yet known. In the coming years, it will become clear what this ruling will mean for unions.
How are Labor Laws Enforced in Unions?
United States labor laws are very unique. While they vary from state to state, there are overreaching federal laws that can override state labor laws. A labor rights lawyer can assist an individual with any labor issues they have and advise them of what labor laws apply in their state.
The NLRB is the agency that enforces the NLRA as well as regulates labor issues and policies against unfair labor practices. An employee has the right to take action against employers and unions that are engaged in unfair labor practices.
In order to report an unfair labor practice, an employee must file a complaint with the nearest NLRB regional office. The NLRB will then investigate the complaint and attempt to reach a settlement. An individual may also e-file their complaint online.
However, if an individual chooses to file online, they must follow the list of requirements without the help of an NLRB official. If the individual fails to complete the paperwork correctly or does not follow the detailed process, they run the risk of their claim being rejected and further delayed.
If an issue arises with a collective bargaining agreement, both an employee and an employer will have a variety of alternative dispute resolution methods available to them to enforce collective bargaining agreements and resolve any issues that may arise. This may include mediation or arbitration.
If an employee wishes to start a union or end their representation in a current union, they will need to file a petition with the NLRB. This petition will require 30% or more support of all of the employees that would qualify for the union.
There are some employment issues that are not handled by the NLRB. These include:
- Wage and pay; and
- Worker’s compensation.
There are other labor laws that apply to these issues. In some cases, an individual may have grounds to file a civil complaint.
When Should I Contact a Labor Lawyer?
Yes, it is essential to have the assistance of an experienced labor law attorney for any labor law issues you may have. Having a lawyer for labor law issues can be very beneficial to any employee. A lawyer can review your case, advise you on what laws apply to your situation, and represent you during any court proceedings, if necessary.