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What is Employment Law (Employee-side)?

The area of practice known as employment law covers the rights, obligations, and responsibilities within the employer-employee relationship-from wages and workplace safety to discrimination and wrongful termination. Employment lawyers typically specialize in representing either employers or employees, but rarely both. Those who represent employees might assist unions or work directly with employees to file lawsuits against employers or negotiate settlements for a wide range of grievances.

Terms to Know

  • At-Will Employment: A type of employment relationship in which there is no contractual agreement and either party may end the employment relationship at any time, for any reason (unless it violates labor laws) or for no reason at all, without incurring a penalty.
  • Back Pay: A type of damages award in an employment lawsuit that represents the amount of money the employee would have earned if the employee was not fired or denied a promotion illegally.
  • Hostile Working Environment: A work environment that is so charged with harassment or similar unwanted behavior that it interferes with the ability to do one's job and is said to violate anti-discrimination laws.
  • Age Discrimination in Employment Act: Federal legislation prohibiting unfair and discriminatory treatment in employment on the basis of age. The Act generally covers individuals at least 40 years of age.

Common Causes of Action in Employment Law

Employees and job interviewees have certain rights and protections, such as the right to not be discriminated against; the right to be paid in accordance with the law; and the right to take leave for family and medical reasons. While federal employment laws set the standard, many states have implemented workplace laws that provide additional protection for employees.

Common employee grievances that result in complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and/or lawsuits include:

  • Discrimination: Employees and even prospective employees may not be discriminated against for certain characteristics, such as gender or nationality.
  • Sexual Harassment: Considered a form of discrimination, harassment occurs when inappropriate sexual behavior prevents the victim from doing his or her job.
  • Wage and Hour: Your employer is legally obligated to pay at least the minimum wage, pay overtime when hours exceed 40 per week, and abide by other wage and hour laws.
  • Wrongful Termination: Employers may not fire you out of retaliation for a legal complaint or for protected characteristics (such as race, gender, pregnancy, etc.).

It is important to note that employers with less than a certain number of employees (depending on the state and law; for example, the Family and Medical Leave Act covers only applies to businesses with 50 or more employees) are not bound by certain employment laws. Also, employees typically have to have worked a certain number of days before obtaining the protection of certain laws.

Related Practice Areas

Check FindLaw's directory of employment law attorneys (representing employees) to find one near you.

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