Employment Laws and Rules: an Overview

Often employees wonder what their rights are and what protections they have in the workplace. Employers on the other hand are equally concerned that they will be liable for their employment decisions and even the actions of individual employees. In essence, both employers and employees want to know what laws are in place that govern employment.

The answer to this question is “it depends.” While this is undoubtedly not the clear answer that employers and employee would like to hear, it is nonetheless the truth. The reason for this unclear answer is that there are a number of factors that determine what laws apply to any employer or employee. For example, certain laws only apply to employers over a certain size. Additionally, states often have different laws or regulations that govern. Consequently, to know what laws you have to follow and what laws do not apply is a complex exercise that will likely require hiring an attorney that does employment work.

Generally, however, there are a number of federal and state laws and regulations that may govern an employer and create certain protections for an employee. While it is beyond the scope of the particular blog post to give an in-depth analysis of every law and regulation, there are many federal and state laws and regulations of which both employers and employees should be aware. Future posts will describe and explain such laws and regulations in greater detail. This post, however offers only an overview so that employers and employees may get a general overview of what laws and regulations may apply.

On the federal level, there are a number of laws or acts that employers and employees should generally be familiar with the following:

  • The Fair Labor Standards Act (sets minimum wage, overtime standards, restricts the use of child labor, and has other rules governing payment of wages);
  • The Equal Pay Act (prohibits wage discrimination based on sex);
  • The National Labor Relations Act of 1935 (establishes right to organize unions and collective bargaining);
  • The Social Security Act of 1935 (unemployment insurance and social security benefits);
  • The Civil Rights act of 1964 as amended (Title VII) (prohibits workplace retaliation and discrimination based on protected classes, e.g. race, sex, religion, national origin, etc.)
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (requires certain accommodations for those with disabilities under various circumstances);
  • The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (prohibits discrimination based on age);
  • The Occupational Safety and Health Act (sets workplace safety standards);
  • The Employee Retirement Income Security Act (pensions and welfare benefit plans);
  • The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (requiring notice of mass layoffs under certain circumstances);
  • The Family Medical Leave Act (allowing employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for themselves or a family member with a medical condition under certain circumstances);
  • Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (prohibiting discrimination based on genetic information)

While each state has its own laws and regulations that govern employment, employers and employees should find out what the rules in their state are for the following:

  • The “At Will” Rule (employer or employee may terminate employment for any reason or no reason, with certain exceptions);
  • Workers Compensation Rules (benefits for workers injured on the job);
  • Whistle Blower Act (protection for employees that report violations or suspected violation of federal or state laws)
  • Drug Testing Rules;
  • Antidiscrimination Rules;
  • Non-Competition and Non-Solicitation Rules (states have different rules governing the scope and length of a non-compete agreement or non-solicitation agreement and some states ban them in whole or in part)

The lists above are only a sampling of the different laws, rules, and regulations that govern employment. As evident by the number of statutes and acts above, while having a general understanding of the laws governing employment is useful, when an employee or employer has specific questions regarding employment, it is best to consult with an attorney that practices employment law as there are many complex rules that must be considered.

Future posts will explain in greater detail various employment concepts and statutes, as well as providing updates on changes to laws and regulations that affect employment.

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