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What Is Labor and Employment Law?

Lainie Petersen
Lainie Petersen

Labor and employment law addresses the legal relationship between an employer and its employees. The scope of labor law can be significant, as labor regulations typically address a wide variety of employment-related concerns, such as wages and working conditions. Other considerations include hiring practices and the offering and implementation of workplace benefits. In addition to the complexity of labor issues, in some jurisdictions there exist several layers of enforcement and accountability. For example, in the United States, the federal government enforces a significant body of labor and employment law, while state and local governments may also add to this with their own laws, regulations, and ordinances.

In many jurisdictions, labor and employment law places restrictions on the hiring practices that can be used by an employer. For example, an employer may be restricted by law from discriminating against job applicants because of their membership in a protected class of people. In some places, it is illegal to discriminate against a job applicant simply because of the individual's age, race, or religion. These protected classes, however, can vary by jurisdiction, often in accordance with cultural values. For example, in some places it is illegal for an employer to discriminate against a job applicant because of that person's sexual orientation, but in other areas this sort of protection does not exist. Other restrictions on hiring practices may include limitations on the use of credit reporting or background check information, along with mandatory disclosures about certain aspects of a company's hiring process.

Businessman with a briefcase
Businessman with a briefcase

Another significant area of labor and employment law involves the issue of workplace conditions. Workplace conditions encompasses a broad category of employment law, as it addresses things such as health and safety regulations as well as issues of harassment and interpersonal relationships between employees. Many jurisdictions, particularly those in industrialized countries, have established a body of law that requires employers to provide safe working environments for their employees. These may include detailed regulations about the structures of buildings, available sanitary facilities, and procedures for caring for employees who become ill or injured on the job. Employers may also be required to address issues of harassment and bullying when it takes place between employees and particularly when the dynamic includes the harassment or bullying of an employee by his superior.

Other features of labor and employment law include the enforcement of laws that require employers to provide certain benefits to workers, such as unemployment insurance or paid time off from work. In cases where the law does not require an employer to provide benefits but an employer promises them to employees anyway, labor law attorneys may represent employees who feel that they have been unjustly deprived of these benefits. As such, labor law may be used by employees as a way to enforce any contracts that exist between them and their employers, even if the contract provides rights and benefits that are not required by applicable employment law.

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