What is employment law?
Employment law includes the federal, state and local law that governs the employment relationship between employer and employee. It includes statutes, regulations, judicial opinions, administrative regulations and common law. Assessing the applicable employment law to a specific workplace situation can be complex because it involves so many areas of law across multiple levels of government. The applicable laws can differ, sometimes substantially, across states. While federal law generally applies uniformly to workplaces across the country, states are free to enact their own laws which can produce different results. Some states duplicate a lot of federal law into their state law while others develop their own legal structures for employment law. For example, Texas mostly follows federal law in crafting its employment laws. On the other hand, Colorado duplicates some federal law but crafts extended rights and protections for workers.
What issues does employment law address?
Employment law covers generally all aspects of the employment relationship. In most states the base employment relationship is an at-will relationship which requires very little legal protection but even that foundation is part of employment law. Today employment law regulates more than just a basic at-will relationship. This area of law provides a range of exceptions to the at-will relationship, regulates payment of wages and other forms of compensation and many workplace issues. Some of these issues are dealt with explicitly, such as employment discrimination, minimum wage and protected workplace leave. Other issues fall into broader legal topics such as contract law and torts (personal injury). Some common issues in employment law include:
- Employment discrimination in the workplace
- Harassment/hostile work environment
- Minimum wage and overtime pay protections
- Worker’s compensation
- Protected leave for medical and family issues
- Protections for the timing and method of wages and final paychecks
- Regulation of certain benefit plans and plan administration
- Noncompete agreements and the ability of employers to limit an individual’s right to work
- Retaliation for exercising legal rights in the workplace
- Wrongful termination through common law and statutory exceptions to at-will employment
- Employment contracts
- Workplace safety
- Government employee rights specific to employment in a public agency
What is labor law?
Employment law is a better known subject for many workers while labor law is a more mysterious subject. People often think of labor and employment law as the same thing or call one the other. While employment law deals with the relationship between an individual employee and employer, labor law deals with the relationship between the employees as a workforce and the employer. Labor law covers issues involving the cooperation of employees to improve workplace conditions and the benefits of employment. Most commonly this involves unions and unionizing the workplace. This area of law also arises when employees cooperatively work together. For example, employees might come together to discuss creating a more regular work schedule or to pursue a pay raise. Even if the employees do not join a union their act of working together is protected under labor law.
Labor law is a function of state and federal law. Federal labor laws establish an overall framework for labor relationships both involving unions and less formal organizing. States can then establish their own labor laws further defining labor rights and labor relationships. A state may choose to follow the least restrictive framework under federal law or may establish further restrictions or rights. For example, Colorado labor laws establish additional procedures and options to unionize the workplace beyond federal law.
What do employment lawyers do?
Employment lawyers help clients with a wide range of labor law and employment law issues. Because labor and employment law are such broad areas of law, many employment lawyers only deal with a certain range of issues or clients. For example, many employment lawyers do not deal with labor law issues. Some only deal with specific areas of employment law such as employment discrimination or employee benefits. Most employment lawyers represent only employees or employers. Attorneys practicing labor law and employment law may only litigate cases or may only work transactionally, advising clients or drafting documents.
Plaintiff-side employee rights lawyers
Most employment lawyers who represent employees primarily deal with litigation. This is because employees typically only need an employment lawyer when something goes wrong in the workplace. Employee rights lawyers have to know the applicable employment law in addition to the procedural requirements of pursuing those claims. That may involve filing a lawsuit in federal or state court, administrative complaints, or pursuing claims in alternative dispute resolution. (Mediation or arbitration.)
Employer-side employment lawyers
Employment lawyers represent employers as well. Many employer-side employment law attorneys work transactionally advising employers and working on documents for the employers. This is because employers often need counsel to ensure they follow the law and to construct workplace policies and procedures to avoid problems. When employers face potential legal action their employment lawyers may also represent them in litigation procedures or may hand off the issue to litigators who are familiar with employment law and its procedures.
Finding employment lawyers near you
There are a lot of ways to find employment lawyers near you who can help you with a potential legal problem. With the internet it is easy to find attorneys by location and practice area and to research those attorneys. The internet does not always push the best information or best employment lawyers to you. It organizes search results by algorithm based upon the content of websites rather than the quality of the lawyer or law firm. You likely need to conduct more than a basic search to find the best employment lawyers for your situation but the internet is a great starting point.
When searching for employment lawyers near you there are many factors you should consider before hiring a law firm or attorney. Your situation is unique to you and your workplace. What is right for other employees may not be best or right for you. Some factors to consider include:
- The employment lawyer’s knowledge and experience dealing with the legal issues in your workplace
- The law firm’s proximity to you and your workplace
- Fee structure for the attorney’s legal services
- The employment lawyer’s communication style
- Whether the employment lawyer takes cases with your particular legal issues
This is not an exhaustive list. You may have particular issues to consider before hiring an employment attorney or before even scheduling consultations with law firms.
In addition to the internet you may want to consider other sources of information and other ways to locate attorneys. Many bar associations and state attorney regulators offer referral services to attorneys in your area. In Texas the State Bar of Texas offers a referral service to local attorneys. In larger counties like Dallas County and Tarrant County the local bar association offers referrals. In Colorado you may receive a lawyer referral from the Colorado Bar Association or a local affiliate bar. You may also know individuals who hired employment lawyers in the past who may provide a referral.