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Labor Law

Labor Laws Exist for Your Protection in the Workplace 

Content Reviewer, Attorney James P. Maniscalco
Created by our team of legal writers and reviewed by James P. Maniscalco. J.D.

Labor law governs the rights and responsibilities of employees, labor unions, and employers.  

U.S. labor laws were created in the 20th century in response to unfair practices of the industrial revolution. The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, for example, created the right to a minimum wage, and overtime pay for employees who worked over forty hours in one week.  

The United States Department of Labor (DOL) now enforces about 180 worker protection laws, through its 28 agencies, eight of which are closely related to labor and employment law:  

  • Wage and Hour Division – enforces and administers child labor laws, and U.S. minimum wage  
  • Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs – administers disability compensation programs, provides benefits to workers or their dependents who experience work-related injury or illness 
  • Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) – enforces workplace safety standards 
  • Employee Benefits Security Administration – educates and assists workers, reitrees, their families, and beneficiaries covered by retirement plans so that they can recover benefits  
  • Employment and Training Administration – provides job training through state and local agencies including the Job Corps 
  • Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation – pays a private pension when an employer can’t  
  • Bureau of Labor Statistics – provides statistics on the workforce 
  • Administrative Review Board – issues the final decision on appeals for worker protection laws including whistleblowers, H-1B immigration, child labor, employment discrimination, and federal contracts 

Other agencies exist in the DOL to further protect and help advance civil rights in the workplace. Newer statutes have been developed to prohibit pregnancy discrimination and discrimination based on marital status, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, or gender.  

Did you know that there are labor laws to protect workers if they are injured at work? Workers’ compensation laws grant employees the right to receive monetary benefits if they are injured as a result of an accident at work.  

What employment situations are governed by labor laws 

Aside from work injuries, there are other employment situations that are covered by labor laws to protect employees. The following is a breakdown of the most common labor violations committed:  

  • Not paying employees fully for hours worked, benefits, or breaks less than 20 minutes 
  • Illegal deductions from employee wages 
  • Failing to secure and maintain workers compensation coverage 
  • Misclassification of employees as contractors or exempt  
  • Not ensuring a safe workplace 
  • Failing to pay overtime 
  • Wrongful termination 
  • Unpaid vacation time 

The above is not an exhaustive list of employer breaches of the employee-employer contracts that exist and the labor laws that govern the employee-employer relationship. Employees are guaranteed certain privileges in the workplace and employers have a duty to provide them.  

Employee rights 

Employers have a responsibility to provide their employees fundamental rights in the workplace. Employees’ rights are essential to maintaining a healthy work environment. The workforce is entitled to: 

  • A workplace free from discrimination and harassment 
  • A safe workplace free of safety hazards 
  • A workplace free from retaliation for filing a claim or complaint  
  • A right to fair wages for the work they perform  

In addition to the four basic rights outlined above, employees can expect that any medical or genetic information they provide an employer will remain confidential.  

Federal and state laws are in place to ensure employee’s rights are protected. Important federal laws include: 

  • Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) – a civil rights law enacted in 1990 that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities at work, in schools, and all places open to the public.  
  • Age Discrimination in Employment Act – became law in 1975 and protects applicants and employees 40 years of age and older from discrimination based on their age.  The protection covers the hiring process, promotions, compensation, and conditions of employment.  
  • Fair Labor Standards Act – enacted in 1938, and also known as “Wage and Hour Bill,” regulates minimum wage, overtime pay, and child labor.  
  • Family Medical Leave Act  federal law, enacted in 1993 that requires companies to provide workers unpaid leave for familial matters like caring for a newborn, emergencies, or taking care of an immediate family member with a serious health condition.  

What to do if your rights are being violated 

If your employer fails to provide a workplace free of discrimination and harassment, has been unable to pay you entirely, or has terminated you without just cause, help is available.  Follow the steps below to start report the issue: 

  1. Talk to your employer 
  2. Speak with your HR department 
  3. Document the problem 
  4. Consider legal action 

Even if you report your concerns to your employer, you may want to consider receiving legal advice. Although HR is in place to facilitate employer-employee relations, they more than likely will not fight to obtain an employee compensation. A labor lawyer can help you: 

  • Receive back pay 
  • Get your job reinstated 
  • Obtain payment for pain and suffering 

Holding your employer accountable can be a long and stressful process. A consultation with an experienced labor law lawyer is free and can help you determine whether taking legal action is your best step forward.  

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