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Labor Law

Updated October 10, 2023
9 min read
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Labor law encompasses all legal matters related to the rights and responsibilities of employees and employers. It ensures fair treatment and protects workers from exploitation or unsafe conditions while helping employers maintain a productive and legally compliant work environment. It encompasses the body of laws that addresses the rights and obligation of an employee and their employer.

What Is Labor Law?

Labor law is an ever-changing area that attempts to ensure that everyone's rights in the workplace are respected and realized. It is the foundation for worker safety, rights, and fair remuneration. Labor law establishes a regulatory framework for employers to ensure compliance with all applicable laws and regulations that safeguard employees –– from safe working conditions to earning adequate compensation. Employees and employers can gain access to experience and specific information on how to effectively conform to these standards so that everyone benefits fairly through labor law attorneys

Fair Labor Standards Act

The Fair Labor Standards Act is a federal law that sets forth minimum wage, overtime pay, child labor, and recordkeeping requirements for employers. It aims to ensure that workers receive fair compensation for their labor and protects young workers from exploitation. Clear communications between employees and employers are important for maintaining compliance with FLSA regulations.

Main Points of Labor Law

Labor law addresses a wide range of labor issues, including:

Wages and Hours

While states may have their own wage and hour rules, the FLSA is the principal federal statute that controls these aspects of employment. Wage and hour regulations govern the minimum wage, maximum working hours, breaks, meal intervals, and overtime requirements. Labor law ensures that employees are paid fairly and have reasonable working hours by regulating:

  • Overtime pay: Non-exempt employees are entitled to overtime compensation (one and a half times their usual rate) for hours worked more than 40 in a workweek.

  • Minimum wage: The FLSA establishes the federal minimum wage. Some states have a higher minimum wage,in which case employers must pay their workers the higher rate. 

  • Breaks and meal times: Break and lunch period regulations vary by state, and labor laws oblige businesses to provide employees with appropriate rest and meal breaks based on the number of hours worked.

Workplace Safety and Health

Workplace safety and health regulations, such as those enforced by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), require employers to maintain a safe and healthy work environment and abide by labor law. It includes providing necessary safety equipment, training, and hazard communication. An organization must prioritize employee safety to maintain a productive work environment.

The following are critical components of occupational safety and health that are regulated by labor law:

  • Reporting and recordkeeping: Employers are required to keep records of occupational injuries and illnesses and report severe instances to OSHA.

  • Required safety equipment: Employers must provide required safety equipment and training to safeguard employees from working hazards. 

  • OSHA regulations: This enforces workplace safety rules to safeguard employees from risks. 

Workers' Compensation

Workers' compensation and labor laws benefit employees who suffer work-related injuries or illnesses. This system helps cover affected workers' medical expenses, lost wages, and rehabilitation costs.

Plant Closings and Layoffs

The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act mandates that employers provide advance notice of mass layoffs or plant closings to affected workers and their communities. This helps workers prepare for potential job loss and seek alternative employment or retraining opportunities.

Labor law addresses plant closings and mass layoffs through the WARN Act, which requires:

  • Advance notice: Employers must provide at least 60 days notice for plant closings and mass layoffs.

  • Retraining assistance: Displaced workers may be eligible for retraining programs and unemployment benefits.

  • Severance pay: Some employees may be entitled to severance pay, depending on their employment contracts or company policies.

Retirement Benefits

It's no secret that having financial security during retirement is essential. As a result, labor laws have been established to ensure workers can benefit from employer-sponsored plans such as 401(k)s and pensions through the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). This federal law not only mandates fair administration of these investments but ensures employees are informed about their benefits while providing legal recourse if employers fail to fulfill their fiduciary duties.

Labor laws regulate retirement benefits through the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), which ensures:

  1. Fair administration: ERISA sets standards for the administration of private-sector retirement plans. 

  2. Transparency: Employers must inform plan participants about their retirement benefits. 

  3. Legal recourse: Employees have the right to sue for benefits and breaches of fiduciary duty.

Labor Unions

Labor laws also govern the formation, activities, and collective bargaining rights of labor unions and their members. The National Labor Relations Act is the primary federal law addressing labor union rights and employer-employee relations.

Protection for Employees

Labor laws, such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), protect employees from discrimination and harassment based on race, gender, religion, age, and disability.

Sexual Harassment and Employment Laws

Sexual harassment is a form of discrimination prohibited under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Employers are responsible for preventing and addressing sexual harassment in the workplace, and employees have the right to file complaints and seek remedies through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Labor Laws and Discrimination

Knowing your rights as an employee, what is labor law, and what is governing them is vital to having a successful work experience. Labor laws are designed to protect individuals in the workplace according to their race, gender identity/expression, religious beliefs (or lack thereof), age disabilities both seen and unseen, and sexual orientation – all institutionally sanctioned forms of discrimination addressed through EEOC channels if need be. These labor laws guide employers and employees to ensure a fair and inclusive work environment. 

Enforcing Safety and Labor Laws

Keeping workers safe and protected is the responsibility of several federal and state agencies, like the Department of Labor, EEOC, and OSHA. These entities ensure that labor laws are upheld to provide a secure environment for employees across the US. 

Whistleblower Protection Act

Whistleblower protection laws, such as the Whistleblower Protection Act and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, protect employees from retaliation when they report workplace violations, misconduct, or other illegal activities. These protections encourage workers to report wrongdoing without fear of losing their job or facing other adverse consequences.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Does the government have the right to take money from my paycheck?

Yes, the government can deduct money from your paycheck for various reasons, including income taxes, Social Security, and Medicare. In addition, wage garnishment may occur in some situations due to unpaid child support, student loans, or other court-ordered debts. 

Do working labor laws give me paid leave?

Labor laws like the FMLA provide eligible employees with job-protected, generally unpaid leave. However, some states and local jurisdictions have enacted paid leave in labor law. In addition, employers may also voluntarily offer paid leave as part of their benefits package.

Do federal labor laws apply to non-U.S. citizens with work visas?

Yes, all employees working in the United States are subject to federal labor regulations, including non-U.S. nationals on work visas. Under labor law, these workers have the same rights and protections as U.S. citizens.

What should I do if I believe my employer is not paying me for the hours I work?

In the event that your hard-earned wages are withheld, it's critical to log any discrepancies and try resolving the issue with your employer. If you don't see a resolution in sight, filing a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor or seeking advice from an attorney specializing in labor law is wise for protecting yourself financially.

How do I know if I am entitled to overtime?

The FLSA offers non-exempt employees the right to receive overtime pay for any hours worked beyond a 40 hour work week. To make sure you’re getting paid what you deserve, familiarize yourself with the FLSA's exemption criteria and be sure to consult with experienced labor law attorneys if needed. 

What does it mean to be an "at-will" employee?

At-will employment is a legal doctrine in which an employer is permitted to terminate an employee for any reason (except illegal reasons, such as discrimination) and without warning, as long as no contract or agreement states otherwise. Similarly, employees can leave their jobs anytime without providing notice or reason. While at-will employment is the default in most U.S. states, some exceptions and limitations apply, such as public policy exceptions and implied contract exceptions, according to labor law.