What is Employment Law?
Employment law is a vast and broad area of the law with statutes, laws, and regulations at the federal and state level. The laws cover how employers pay workers, health and safety, benefits and workers’ compensation, workplace standards, and particular industries.
Major Employment Laws
It’s essential for employers to understand the laws that govern the workplace, hiring, compensation, and more. If you are unfamiliar with the law and violate one, you could face stiff penalties. This is why an employment law lawyer is useful to have. Here are just some of the major federal laws that affect how employers operate:
Fair Labor Standards Act
The Fair Labor Standards Act sets a federal minimum wage, overtime pay, and child labor regulations. Some states have a higher minimum wage that employers must abide by, but none can be lower than the federal wage.
Employee Retirement Income Security Act
ERISA protects pension plans and other benefits for employees. It requires that fiduciaries disclose information about pensions and other benefits and report to the federal government. Employees must be given an appeals process for denied benefits.
Family and Medical Leave Act
The Family and Medical Leave Act requires larger employers—those with at least 50 employees—to provide workers with up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for a family emergency or health problems. The worker must be allowed to return to the same position after the leave.
Occupational Safety and Health Act
This law created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and regulates safety in the workplace. Under the law, employers must do certain things to protect workers, such as provide safety training and information on reporting issues to OSHA.
Immigration and Nationality Act
This law regulates non-U.S. citizen workers. It addresses the necessary visas, permanent employment, and exceptions for registered nurses. The law also addresses temporary agricultural workers, often referred to as migrant workers.
Several federal laws prohibit discrimination in the workplace. This means you can not hire, fire, discipline, or otherwise treat someone differently because of their race, color, gender, national origin, religion, age, or disability.
There are also several laws that protect whistleblowers. Employers cannot discriminate against or retaliate against an employee who complained about the company or employer. For instance, OSHA ensures that employees have a right to officially complain about unsafe working conditions.
Labor laws include the National Labor Relations Act, the Taft-Hartley Act, and others. They created the National Labor Relations Board and gave workers the right to organize without retaliation from employers. They also ban unions from using coercion tactics.
A combination of laws, court decisions, and the U.S. and state constitutions assure employees some degree of privacy at work. For example, the Americans with Disabilities Act protects medical information for disabled employees, restricting access. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act protects worker privacy in group health plans.
As an employer, with some limitations, you have a right to install workplace surveillance and monitor employees’ work-related communications. Depending on state laws, you may be allowed to conduct random drug testing.
Industry-Specific Employment Law
Congress has also passed several laws that apply to specific industries. The Mine Safety and Health Act and Black Lung Benefits Act protect mine workers and provide compensation for coal miners afflicted by a job-related respiratory illness.
The Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act and other laws protect migrant farmworkers and children in agriculture. The Contract Work Hours and Safety Standards Act sets safety regulations and hours for construction workers.
Specific laws protect workers in the maritime industry. The Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act provides specific injury compensation rules for the industry. The Jones Act allows seamen to sue their employers after injuries and accidents.
What Are Penalties for Violating Employment Laws?
When employers violate employment laws or employee rights, they can face legal action. Employees have a right to make complaints with state or federal agencies and, in some cases, to sue employers. Some of the penalties or consequences you may face for violating the laws include:
- Payment of fines
- Reinstatement of a fired employee
- Payment of back wages to an employee
- Payment of legal costs
- Shut down of business operations
- Jail time
In addition to the penalties assigned by government agencies, mediation hearings, or the court system, there can be other significant consequences of violating employment laws. Your company may experience bad press, which impacts business. You may also find it more difficult to hire good workers with a bad reputation for employee treatment.
If you get in trouble with employment law, contact a lawyer specializing in this area of the law. They can advise you, defend you against employee allegations, and make sure you don’t violate the laws in the first place, preventing future problems.