Employee law covers hiring practices, working and safety conditions, termination of employment, and various other areas of the employment relationship. Other terms for employee law include labor law or employment law. Employers must comply with many laws governing the workplace. Violation of employee law could result in civil lawsuits, fines, and criminal penalties in some instances.
Hiring practices is the process an employer uses to select an applicant for employment. This area is important because employers face the threat of litigation if they use unlawful methods to select an applicant. For example, many jurisdictions prohibit employers from discriminating against someone based on race, gender, age, national origin, or disability among other things. An employer asking job applicants about their age or whether they plan to have children could face a lawsuit. Employers must conduct interviews to avoid asking questions that an applicant perceives as discriminatory.
Working conditions includes hours of work, overtime, rest and meal breaks, and a variety of other conditions depending on job. These laws are numerous and are often complex. Employers violating laws that regulate working conditions could face substantial fines from government agencies. For instance, in the U.S., the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is a law that provides many protections to employees such as requiring employers to pay a minimum hourly wage. The FLSA also establishes potential penalties against employers violating this law.
Employee law also includes health and safety standards. Employers must ensure a safe working environment for their employees. For instance, employers must conduct meetings on job safety to ensure employees know their responsibilities, inspect working areas, and have someone trained in first aid available in case an emergency arises. Laws generally also prohibit employers from punishing an employee who reports a safety hazard to the government.
Terminating or firing an employee is often the cause of many lawsuits against employers. Many jurisdictions follow the employment at will doctrine, which means that an employer may fire an employer for any reason or no reason. In other words, if a termination has no illegal purpose and no contract applies, the employer may discharge an employee at any time, although the employer may still have to justify the firing to a government agency or in court. This is because employee law usually allows workers to file a lawsuit against an employer for alleged wrongful discharge.
Retaliation against an employee is one example of a wrongful discharge claim. A claim of retaliation usually arises when an employer allegedly fires an employee because the employee reported employer wrongdoing involving discriminatory acts, financial impropriety, or failing to comply with safety standards. An employee who can prove a wrongful discharge can win money damages. A court may also order the employer to reinstate or rehire the employee.